Compressions Only Vs. CPR

March 5, 2018

We’ve all seen at least one TV show or movie where someone performs CPR and rescue breathing on a victim (usually incorrectly). It is important to know the difference between the two and which situations warrant which action. Compressions only and CPR are both used in situations where a victim is going into cardiac arrest. This situation poses an immediate threat to life. Even though quick action is known to double or possibly triple a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest, many bystanders choose not to involve themselves.


Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, uses both chest compressions and rescue breathing. “Cardio” means heart and “pulmonary” means lungs. CPR involves forcing air into the body and blood to pump for someone who can’t do it on their own. It combines chest compressions and rescue breathing to send oxygenated blood to the brain and other organs when the heart is not beating and the person is not breathing. The person performing the resuscitation pushes down on the victim’s breastbone. This forces the heart to pump and circulate blood. In addition to calling for emergency services, bystander CPR increases the victim’s chance of survival. Again, there are many situations that may call for CPR. Here are a few:

  • Cardiac Arrest

  • Unconscious and not breathing due to: stroke, electrical shock, or a severe allergic reaction

  • Unconscious choking

Compressions Only

Chest compressions only is used in the exact same situation as stated above—minus the breaths. This is a great option for untrained rescuers who haven’t taken a Specialized Health and Safety Training course, yet. This is also a great option for people who might not feel comfortable putting their mouth on a stranger’s mouth. If someone is worried about disease or illnesses or vomit getting into their mouth, compressions only is also a good option. This is mostly a good option when adults need CPR. It’s best to still include breaths when it comes to children (1-12) or infants (birth-1). Adults are most likely to collapse due to cardiac arrest—you don’t hear of too many 6 year olds having a heart attack plus people tend to feel more comfortable performing breaths on a child or infant.

The American Heart Association released a statement in 2008 saying that the use of compression-only CPR could also be effective in life-saving situations. In this case, a person only uses chest compressions to force the heart to pump blood to the brain and other organs. This is in acknowledgement of people’s reluctance to perform mouth-to-mouth or rescue breathing. This is obviously not the best life-saving method but it is better than not doing anything. Knowing when and how to use CPR and rescue breathing can save lives; act quickly.