Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) plays an important role in the early treatment of a heart attack if the heart stops beating.

CPR is an emergency treatment. It helps keep blood moving throughout a person’s body when their heart stops beating, which healthcare professionals refer to as cardiac arrest. CPR helps extend the opportunity for successful resuscitation.

Not everyone who has a heart attack needs CPR. It is only necessary if a person goes into cardiac arrest.

This article explores CPR and heart attacks in detail, including when to give CPR and when it is not appropriate. It also discusses CPR and cardiac arrest survival rates and when to talk with a healthcare professional.

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CPR is a lifesaving procedure that aims to keep a person alive until emergency responders arrive. One of the reasons a person may need CPR is if they go into cardiac arrest after a heart attack.

When a healthcare professional or trained individual administers CPR, they typically perform chest compressions at a rate of 100–120 per minute to help restore blood flow or circulation to the body.

Cardiac arrest occurs due to an issue with electrical signals in the heart that cause it to stop beating. When the heart stops beating, a person typically becomes unresponsive within a few seconds. Without CPR, the person can die quickly, as blood flow to the lungs, brain, and other vital organs stops.

A heart attack occurs due to a blockage that prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. If blood flow is not restored, this part of the heart may start to die.

Rapid treatment for a heart attack may help reduce damage and prevent additional complications.

Heart attack symptoms can come on suddenly. However, in some cases people may start to develop symptoms slowly over several minutes, hours, days, or weeks.

Most heart attacks do not progress to cardiac arrest, but many cases of cardiac arrest occur due to a heart attack. A person will only need CPR for a heart attack if it leads to cardiac arrest.

Signs that a person needs CPR include:

  • the person has no pulse or heartbeat
  • the person has stopped breathing
  • the person has become unresponsive or unconscious

In either case, a person should call 911 immediately. Emergency medical services (EMS) can help diagnose and administer treatment quickly.

If the person is unresponsive or has no pulse, a person should start CPR after contacting 911. Often, a 911 dispatcher can help coach a person to perform CPR.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a two-step version of CPR for people who have not received CPR training. The two steps are:

  1. Call 911 or tell someone to call 911 for you.
  2. Push down hard and quickly on the center of the person’s chest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends not stopping CPR until a trained bystander can take over or EMS arrives.

People interested in learning CPR can search for local classes using this tool from the AHA.

The majority of people who experience a heart attack will not need CPR.

A person needs CPR only if they go into cardiac arrest, which may be indicated by loss of a pulse and becoming unresponsive.

A person should stop administering CPR if they can detect a noticeable pulse.

According to a 2016 study, newer changes to CPR recommendations that do not emphasize routine pulse checks may lead to confusion among people who complete Advanced Cardiac Life Support training.

Researchers administered an assessment as part of the study. They found that many people did not know they could stop compressions or medications meant to restart the heart after they felt a pulse.

Researchers recommend that additional training and education may be necessary to help people understand when stopping CPR is appropriate.

In the United States, 436,000 people die from cardiac arrest each year.

About 70% of cases of cardiac arrest occur at home, with about half of them going unwitnessed.

The CDC and AHA both state that starting CPR within minutes of a person becoming unresponsive may double or triple their odds of survival.

A person should call 911 immediately if they believe they or another person is experiencing a heart attack.

Common symptoms that could indicate a heart attack include:

These symptoms may come on suddenly or more slowly over several minutes, hours, days, or weeks, notes the AHA.

CPR is not necessary for a heart attack itself, but a person may need CPR if the heart attack leads to cardiac arrest.

If someone experiencing cardiac arrest receives CPR, it may help keep their blood flowing until EMS arrives and can transport the person to a hospital.

A person should call 911 immediately if they think someone may be having a heart attack. The 911 responder may be able to advise how to perform CPR if the person having a heart attack goes into cardiac arrest.