Is CPR alone essentially useless?

AED.jpgThis morning on the way to work there was a discussion on radio about how doctors view the art of dying in comparison to the general population. The most shocking part of the interview focused on the nearly useless practice of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation). The program revealed that actual survival rate from CPR is just 8%. And that’s the odds of surviving just for one month. Another 5% don’t get past that.

So the doctors were sharing a sobering fact that many of us likely do not realize:  just 3% of people treated with CPR live to see a relatively healthy life. The rest die.

All this despite hours of training and preparation engaged by thousands of people around the world. It needs to be stated clearly: CPR alone may not work.

AED packs

These days CPR training places more focus on the AED packs that contain shock paddles used to revive a heart that stops beating. reports that: “Communities with comprehensive AED programs that include CPR and AED training for rescuers have achieved survival rates of nearly 40% for cardiac arrest victims. Making AEDs more available to lay responders who are trained in their use could save even more lives.”

A man that I met recently lost his father to a sudden heart attack while they were out birding on a remote island in the Aleutian chain of islands off Alaska. Losing his dad moved the man to learn what really works. He started a company that makes AEDs. Recently he sold that company after a decade of building it up. But it had competed in a market with the likes of Phillips and other companies charging $4000 per AED unit. His AEDs sold for $1500. Now there are 400,000 of them out there in airports and other key locations where heart attacks often happen in public. That’s a pretty admirable use of business acumen, if you ask me.

In training

A few months back my wife and I went through CPR training. We learned how to use an AED pack in the process. The trainer did not mention the fact that the CPR portion of the training has such a low success rate. Perhaps even she doesn’t know that.

The New York Times reports (please click through to read the article): “Research generally suggests that about 40 percent of patients who receive CPR after experiencing cardiac arrest in a hospital survive immediately after being resuscitated, and only 10 to 20 percent survive long enough to be discharged.

The same story shares that television programs showed a 75% survival rate from CPR alone. Those programs are lying to us. 

The American Heart Association takes a somewhat more optimistic view of CPR, but it still comes with some provisos: “Cardiac arrest – an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and disrupts the flow of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs – is a leading cause of death. Each year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States.

When a person has a cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately getting CPR from someone nearby. Almost 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.”

Lucky guy

Last year I interviewed a young man that had saved his own father’s life using CPR. So there is real-time evidence that CPR can save lives. But as the AHA story suggests, much depends on the timing and circumstance of the attack.

So while there is conflicting information about the effectiveness of CPR, that means you should ask questions if you sign up to learn or re-certify for CPR. If the training does not include training with an AED pack, you are quite possibly wasting your time.

It’s all important to know because many of us participate in activities that can and do produce heart problems. There might not always be a doctor around when that happens. But pouncing on a person and administering CPR to the point where their ribs break during CPR may not be doing them a favor either.

It’s a tough subject, but the medical world is trying to send us honest messages that the illusion of successful CPR is exaggerated, if not an urban legend.

We all want to be responsible, but it sure makes sense to figure out what that really means.


About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at, and Online portfolio:
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