The Hero Within: Knowing Hands-Only CPR & How To Use An AED Can Save Lives

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Performing CPR

The first week of June was National CPR/AED Awareness Week. In belated observance, Public Health Matters looks at how people can confidently help someone in cardiac arrest.

The numbers are staggering. About 350,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year, and about 9 in 10 of them die. (1)

Bystanders and family members are often first to respond in a medical emergency, but, according to some research, they may hesitate to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)—even if they have been trained in CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). The most common reasons for responders’ reluctance are mistrust of their abilities and fear of injuring the victim, according to a study in Emergency Medicine Journal. (2)

That was before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak and CDC’s recommendations to keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet from other people and wear a mask in public settings.

Take Action

Cardiac arrests still happen outside of hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak, and victims still need help. If you are in the position to save a life, you should.

CPR keeps blood flowing and provides oxygen to the brain and other vital organs, giving the victim a better chance of a full recovery. If performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, it can double or triple a person’s chance of survival. (1)

If you are uncomfortable with putting your mouth on a stranger’s mouth because the other person may have COVID-19, you can do hands-only CPR until help arrives, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). (3)

You don’t need a special certification or formal training to do hands-only CPR. If cardiac arrest happens to someone near you, don’t be afraid to take action:

  1. Call 9-1-1 right away. If another bystander is nearby, save time by asking that person to call 9-1-1 and look for an AED while you begin CPR. All 50 states have laws or regulations requiring AEDs in that public gathering places. (4)
  2. Give hands-only CPR. Push down hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions or pushes a minute. Let the chest come back up to its normal position after each push. AHA recommends timing your pushes to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.” This method of CPR is called “hands-only” and does not involve breathing into the person’s mouth.
  3. Keep giving hands-only CPR until medical professionals arrive or until a person with formal CPR training can take over.

You CAN make a difference, but you must be willing to help.

Education at Your Fingertips

How to know if someone is in cardiac arrestBeing prepared for an emergency is more about knowledge than supplies.

  • Learn how to perform hands-only CPR from home. Watch AHA’s instructional video and share the link with others.
  • Learn how to use an AED. An AED is a device that easily walks you through how to use it on a person in cardiac arrest.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of cardiac arrest. It’s important to know that cardiac arrest can happen at any age. If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 9-1-1 and begin hands-only CPR.
  • Learn more about the Good Samaritan Law where you live. The general principal of the Good Samaritan Law provides for protection from claims of negligence for those who provide care without exception of payment. All 50 states have a Good Samaritan Law, but the details of these laws can vary from state to state. (5)
  • Take a CPR training course in person when it is again safe to gather in groups. CPR with compressions and breaths is recommended for infants, children, victims of drowning or drug overdose, or people who collapse because of breathing problems. (6) If you are unwilling to perform rescue breaths with infants or children, you should do chest compressions until medical help arrives. (7)

Visit Prepare Your Health for more information on how to prepare for emergencies.




Thanks in advance for your comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO ( offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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7 comments on “The Hero Within: Knowing Hands-Only CPR & How To Use An AED Can Save Lives”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Informative article. Without a doubt, CPR and use of AED should be taught/learned by individuals, families and communities. These simple measures will have a monumental shift in decreasing Cardiac Arrests from the astounding 350,000 figure.

    Knowing CPR and how to use the AED is important when you are working in the healthcare field. Cardiac arrest can happen anywhere not just in the hospital setting. CPR is performed to keep blood flowing and oxygen to the brain and all the vital organs. Hands-only CPR is just as important as completing the full cycle of CPR. As a nurse, I feel that the community should know how and when to perform CPR in an emergency situation.

    This post was very informative and informational especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to inform the public to still do compression only CPR and not have mouth to mouth contact will help the chances to save a person’s life while not coming in direct path of the victim’s nose or mouth. During this COVId-19 pandemic many people are afraid of being in close contact with anyone outside of the family or household. Knowing what to do in an emergent situation is always great to know in addition to the tools in how to obtain the goals desired. Knowing that all public places are required to have AEDs is a great piece of information to have as this specific item helps you walk through the steps and speaks to you out loud. Using the AED in addition to hands only CPR can help our fellow citizens in one of their greatest time of need.

    I just realized that cardiac arrest is similar to a heart attack but different.
    Does anyone know the difference from a heart attack to a cardiac arrest?

    Knowing how to do high quality CPR and how to properly use an AED will dramatically effect the outcome once return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) is achieved. Some of the most common side effects that occur post cardiac arrest are due to a lack of oxygen to vital organs. Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause severe neurological deficits and is known as an anoxic brain injury (Lund University, 2015). High quality CPR is conducted by doing a 100-120 compressions a minute at a depth of at least 2 inches, allowing for full recoil of the chest. It’s important to start compressions as soon as possible to circulate what oxygen is left in the blood stream. While one person is doing compressions the other should be locating an AED and calling for EMS. This was a great post and very informative.

    Lund University. (2015). Cognitive problems are common after cardiac arrest. ScienceDaily.

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Page last reviewed: February 3, 2021
Page last updated: February 3, 2021