The History of CPR and How it Works

Modern Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Isn’t All That Modern

Photo Credit: Safar Center for Resuscitation Research

Fun Fact: mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is three centuries old! Who knew? Before we dive into the fascinating history of CPR, however, we’re going to take a moment or two to talk about cardiac arrest, how CPR works, and how something that was first analyzed in a medical publication in 1792 has evolved into modern-day CPR.

A Few Words about Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can happen at any time. In many cases, victims may appear perfectly healthy and may not have any known pre-existing heart conditions. AED and CPR advocate Rob Seymour, who we profiled in March, is a perfect example!

Unlike a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage in an artery or vein, SCA occurs when the electrical system of the heart stops functioning. While heart attacks are often preceded by some pretty clear symptoms, SCA rarely is. If you’d like to learn more about the difference between a heart attack and SCA and their symptoms, you’re in luck — we covered that topic back in March!  

According to the American Heart Association, approximately 350,000 people suffered cardiac arrest outside of a hospital in 2016. An additional 209,000 cardiac arrests occurred in a hospital setting.

People who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital have about a 12% chance of survival. While that’s a pretty dismal statistic, the good news is that the survival rate has been increasing over the past several years. Furthermore, the chances of survival are doubled or even tripled if the victim receives CPR from a bystander—even one with no prior medical training! If that’s not enough, check out our post, 10 Reasons to Learn CPR.

The key to survival for victims of cardiac arrest is often receiving CPR immediately.

How CPR Works

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is an easy-to-learn first aid technique that can keep the victims of a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or other medical emergency alive until medical professionals can take over. Chest compressions and rescue breathing work together to keep oxygen flowing in and out of the lungs and to maintain the flow of oxygenated blood throughout the entire body.

When rescue breaths are used, the rescuer’s exhaled breath provides the victim with additional oxygen. Although we exhale carbon dioxide, there’s enough oxygen in every exhaled breath (approximately 16%) to help an SCA victim (University of Washington).

The History of CPR

1700s

In 1740, The Paris Academy of Sciences officially recommends mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for drowning victims. And 17 years later, The Society for the Recovery of Drowned Persons becomes the first organized effort to deal with sudden and unexpected death.

Dr. James Curry publishes “Popular Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Suffocation, Etc., with an Account of the Means to be Employed for Recovery” in 1792.

1800s

In 1892 German doctor Friedrich Maass publishes “Resuscitation Technique Following Cardiac Death after Inhalation of Chloroform” in the Berlin Clinical Weekly.

1900s

At the turn of the century, an American surgeon, Dr. George Crile, reports the first successful use of external chest compressions in human resuscitation.

In 1954 Dr. James Elam is the first to prove that expired air was sufficient to maintain adequate oxygenation. Two years later, Elam and Dr. Peter Safar are able to prove the efficacy of CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

1960s

The American Heart Association starts a program to acquaint physicians with closed-chest cardiac resuscitation. This program becomes the forerunner of CPR training for the general public.

Cardiologist Leonard Scherlis starts the American Heart Association’s CPR Committee in 1963, and later that same year, the American Heart Association formally endorses CPR.

1970s

In 1972, Leonard Cobb holds the world’s first mass citizen training in CPR in Seattle, Washington called Medic 2. He helps train over 100,000 people during the first two years of the program.

1980s

Now considered common practice by 911 operators, a program to provide telephone instructions for CPR begins in King County, Washington.

1990s

Early Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) programs are developed to provide training and resources to the public to improve bystander assistance rates and to increase the successful resuscitation of cardiac arrest victims.

2000s

The American Heart Association (AHA) and International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) releases a statement regarding the use of AEDs on children. It is determined that an AED may be used for children one to eight years of age who have no signs of circulation.

In 2008, the AHA releases a statement about Hands-Only™ CPR, saying that bystanders who witness the sudden collapse of an adult should dial 911 and provide high-quality chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the middle of the victim’s chest.

SOURCES: American Heart Association, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, European Resuscitation Journal

For the full scoop on CPR or AEDs, CPR and AED Training, or to purchase an AED, visit AED.com or call Cardio Partners at 866-349-4362. You can also email us at customerservice@cardiopartners.com.

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