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What is CPR, anyway?

We hear it all the time. “I’ve done a CPR course!” “Does anyone here know CPR?” “You’ll need to learn CPR for your new job!”

But what exactly is CPR? And where did it come from?

CPR is short for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. “Cardio” simply means “heart” and “pulmonary” means “lungs”. So “Cardiopulmonary” simply means “heart and lungs”. “Resuscitation” simply means to “revive” or “bring back to life again”.

So when you perform CPR on someone you are bringing them back to life, via their heart and lungs.

CPR works by you applying repeated pressure to a person’s chest. This compresses the heart making it push blood through the body (which it would normally do if it was working). Keeping the blood flowing through the body helps to keep vital organs alive. Compressing the chest also makes the lungs “breath in and out” in a small but important way and this keeps bringing some fresh oxygen into the person’s lungs and that is transferred via their blood to the rest of the body.

You are in effect taking over the job of the heart and lungs when you perform CPR. Now you can add Mouth to Mouth Resuscitation to CPR but you don’t have to, if you are not comfortable putting your mouth on someone else’s mouth. While this does breathe more air into the person’s lungs, it is not as vital as the primary action of CPR which is to get the blood circulating through the body, carrying whatever oxygen it has to the cells and helping the cells get rid of waste.

You may not realise this, but Mouth to Mouth Resuscitation dates back to 1740 when the Paris Academy of Sciences recommended it to be used on drowning victims! (Believe it or not Mouth to Mouth is even mentioned in the Bible!)

It was not until 1891 that we had the first documented use of “chest compressions” on a person by a German surgeon Dr Friedrich Maass. This is what lead to the formal development of this technique as a recommended action on those who had suffered a cardiac arrest or drowned etc.

By the 1950s the use of “chest compressions” was widespread amongst health professionals and even the US Military made it part of their standard training for all personnel.

During the 1960s it was realised that CPR (as it was now being called) if done by bystanders on people who had suffered a cardiac arrest could double or triple the chance of the person surviving. Health experts then began calling for the training of more people in CPR. In 1972 a US doctor conducted the first mass citizen training in CPR in Seattle.

Today, anyone who is interested in saving lives can do CPR training, whether or not their job requires them to be trained. Book your CPR training at


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