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Top 10 CPR Myths
Michele and I have been teaching CPR to healthcare professionals and students since 1984. We have witnessed the development, improvement and widespread acceptance of CPR education over the years. Despite these advances, we still hear many myths about CPR every time we teach. As healthcare professionals and students, we must not let old information, misperceptions and public fears about CPR, nor Hollywood’s unrealistic portrayal of CPR affect our duty to provide high-quality CPR to our patients and the public. So, to help dispel these myths, I’ve created this list of the most common CPR myths we hear most often from the healthcare professionals and students we teach every day.
Myth 1: CPR must include mouth-to-mouth breathing.
false Health care workers or first responders will begin chest compressions immediately. Breathing should preferably be performed with a bag mask, mouth to mask or mouth to mouth with an obstruction device. If you don’t know the patient and don’t feel comfortable putting your mouth over theirs or don’t have a CPR face mask, just do continuous chest compressions without breathing until 911 arrives. The American Heart Association revised its recommendations and encouraged lay bystander rescuers to use “hands-only” CPR as an alternative to breath-exchange CPR.
Myth 2: CPR always works.
wrong Unfortunately, this is not true and is a very common opinion perpetuated by Hollywood. The actual survival rate of an adult after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is about 2% – 15%. Survival rates can increase by up to 30% if an AED is used to deliver the shock. However, if the victim’s heart stops and no one immediately starts resuscitation – then the possibility of the victim’s survival is zero.
Myth 3: I could be sued if I use CPR the wrong way or make a mistake.
wrong We have not read of any lawsuits filed against lay rescuers or health care workers attempting to provide CPR. Generally speaking, our legal system provides Good Samaritan protections throughout the country, excluding anyone who provides emergency CPR treatment in an attempt to save someone’s life. This includes lay rescuers and health professionals. Lawsuits typically target health clubs or similar facilities that have CPR-certified employees who did not have or use an AED at the time of the cardiac arrest. In general, as long as lay rescuers and health workers do not deviate too much from the standard CPR procedure, they are most likely to be protected.
Myth 4: We can become proficient in CPR with an online course.
false While it is true that you can learn the steps of CPR in an online course, you most likely would not be able to perform high-quality CPR on a real patient after taking a computer-based CPR course. Hands-on training, under the guidance of a certified instructor, is the key to developing muscle memory and proper techniques.
Myth 5: A victim of sudden cardiac arrest can only be saved with CPR.
wrong AED/defibrillator can deliver electric shocks that will return the fibrillating heart to a normal rhythm. CPR alone cannot revive a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. CPR can only delay death until the defibrillator delivers a life-saving shock.
Myth 6: A patient should cough while having a heart attack to prevent the heart attack from getting worse.
wrong This myth is what is known as ‘Cough CPR’. CPR coughing was thought to speed up a very slow heartbeat (bradycardia) and keep the patient conscious until emergency services arrived. It is probably a misinterpretation of the vagal maneuver. A vagal maneuver is used to help the patient stimulate the vagus nerve to slow down the rapid heartbeat.
Myth 7: Cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack.
wrong These are different conditions and are treated differently. Cardiac arrest is caused by arrhythmia, arrhythmia, irregular heartbeat, leading to cardiac arrest, in which the heart does not move (asystole) or fibrillates (ventricular). A heart attack is a myocardial infarction caused by a blockage of a coronary artery. Therefore, the term ‘cardiac arrest’ is not synonymous with ‘heart attack’. A patient who experiences a heart attack may experience chest pain, nausea, vomiting and become diaphoretic. However, a heart attack can ultimately lead to cardiac arrest, depending on the severity of the blockage in the heart.
Myth 8: Someone with more experience than me should help the victim. Well, I shouldn’t help.
false The key to surviving cardiac arrest is the immediate reaction of someone trained in CPR. A patient who collapses and does not receive chest compressions immediately has little or no chance of survival. If you know how to properly perform chest compressions, you should help immediately.
Myth 9: CPR can do more harm than good.
wrong When you perform CPR it is on someone who does not have a heartbeat. Proper chest compression, to be effective, must be fast and very strong. It is true that you could break one of the victim’s ribs while performing CPR. After the victim is revived, injuries can be treated. Damaged ribs are worth the risk and much better than letting the victim die without attempting CPR.
Myth 10: CPR will always restart the victim’s heart if they are in asystole.
wrong CPR alone will not always restart a non-beating heart. The purpose of CPR is to deliver oxygen-enriched blood to the victim’s brain and other vital organs. Continued high-quality CPR will reduce the number of the victim’s brain cells that will die without adequate blood flow. Medicines such as epinephrine and vasopressin can help restore blood flow to the heart.
Kunz is currently certified by the American Heart Association as a BLS, CPR and AED specialist since 1988. He is also a certified AHA BLS, CPR and AED instructor. He is also the co-founder and co-owner of a medical training company that provides AHA certification courses to healthcare professionals and students in the New York City area.
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