Overcoming the fear of doing hands-only CPR in order to save someone’s life

‘You don’t have to have prior experience’ says heart expert

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. It occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating.

Receiving immediate hands-only CPR can double or even triple the odds of surviving a cardiac arrest, but only 46 percent of people who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital receive CPR. Dr. Brahmajee Nallamothu, an interventional cardiologist at the University of Michigan wants to help change that.

“I think it really comes down to that fear component. People are really worried that they might make things worse. I think it’s really important to remember that at the time of cardiac arrest, that person is essentially dead, their heart has stopped, and it’s very hard to make things worse in that situation,” said Nallamothu.

Nallamothu treats the patients that survive long enough to make it to the hospital, but he knows there are so many more that could have that chance if they received hands-only CPR.

“All the fancy tools at the end can only do so much if the initial care isn’t applied,” said Nallamothu. “This is a challenge that I think that people should really think about and prepare for, so that if it does happen, that they’re ready.”

Nallamothu said there are three facts he wants people to know about hands-only CPR:

  • Hands-only CPR is effective.
  • It’s easy to learn and perform.
  • You don’t have to have prior experience to do it.

CPR training resource guide: Why it’s important, how it works, how to get trained

How to begin hands-only CPR

“Try to find some midpoint of the chest, kind of in between the nipple area, put down one heel of the hand, and then put down your other hand on top of it over the patient, so your arms and shoulders are directly over the chest bone, and then start,” said Nallamothu. “I think the real key things are go deep and go fast. By deep, you know, we use a rule of about two inches, but it’s really hard in an adult to really push that deep. So I think most people make the error of not pushing hard enough, and then you gotta push quick. The common thing that’s kind of taught in a lot of schools and other areas is doing it to the beat of a song like ‘Staying Alive,’ something that’s rapid because it has about 100 beats per minute.”

Doing hands-only CPR will help recirculate the blood in the body to the brain and vital organs until help arrives.

“Hands-only CPR is really just a bridge to something else,” said Nallamothu. “So when you do find somebody in cardiac arrest, the very first step is to call for help. If you’re by yourself, call 911. If someone is with you, as you start to begin treatment, you have to make sure that that other individual calls for help.”

If an AED is available, send someone to grab it right away as well.

So how do you know if someone needs CPR? There are three key signs you can look for:


*No pulse

*Not breathing or not breathing effectively (For example, gasping for air)

While hands-only CPR is no guarantee of survival, Nallamothu wants everyone to understand, that it’s worth the effort to give the person their best chance at a second chance.

“Several my patients talk about that second life that’s been given to them and how meaningful that is. And I think that’s something that is really extraordinary,” said Nallamothu. “In fact, there’s very few things in medicine that are as satisfying as as a patient who survives a cardiac arrest.”

Related: Husband saves wife who went into cardiac arrest with hands-only CPR instructed by a local dispatcher