What is CPR?

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is a procedure to try to restart your heart or breathing if they stop. If you become very sick, you or your family may be asked if you would want CPR if your heart or breathing stops. 

The best time to think about this is before an emergency occurs. If your wish is to not have CPR, you will need a medical order called a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) to make this known to your medical team.

How does CPR work?

CPR stands for cardio (heart) pulmonary (lungs) resuscitation (trying to bring back). This process may include multiple actions if your heart or breathing stops. These include:

  • Chest compressions (squeezing your heart by pushing hard on your chest).
  • Mouth-to-mouth breathing or a tube in the throat to move air into and out of the lungs.
  • Electrical shock and drugs.

How well does CPR work?

CPR is less successful than most people think. Your health and age make a difference. When you are healthy and CPR is started very quickly after a sudden event, your heart and breathing are more likely to restart. About 15 to 26 percent of patients who have CPR in the hospital leave the hospital alive. CPR works 2 percent of the time for people who are older, weak, very sick or live in a nursing facility.

Risks of CPR

If CPR is successful in restarting your heart and breathing, you may return to your current health. CPR does have risks and you may need 24-hour care, have brain damage from lack of oxygen or damaged ribs from chest compressions. Talk with your doctor about the risks and your health and think about your goals for your care.

Ask your doctor: If I had CPR, what are the chances of it working and getting me back to where my health was before?

What to consider

If you choose CPR, emergency health care workers or other providers will start CPR and you will be moved to an intensive care unit (ICU) and placed on a ventilator (breathing machine) until you become stable enough to leave the ICU and hospital.

If you choose to have CPR, talk with your doctor and your loved ones and write your choice for CPR in an advance directive. CPR is always given unless you have a Do Not Resuscitate order, but share your choice for CPR with your loved ones so they know you would have chosen it anyway.

If you choose not to have CPR, People may choose not to have CPR if they want to avoid machines, focus on comfort or for other personal reasons. If you choose not to have CPR, you will continue to receive other medical care. Be sure to ask for a DNR order that is signed by your doctor. Talk with your loved ones and your health care decision-maker about your wishes and goals for care.

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