CPR Vs. Rescue Breathing

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and rescue breathing are skills used when a person has fallen victim to sudden cardiac or respiratory arrest. Both of these situations pose an immediate threat to life. While effective CPR is known to double or triple a person's chances for surviving sudden cardiac arrest, less than one-third of people who arrest outside of the hospital receive bystander CPR.

Rescue breathing

Rescue breathing is a skill performed for a victim who is not breathing at all, or whose breaths are too slow or irregular to be effective. In rescue breathing, breaths are delivered to the victim by pinching the nose shut and breathing into the victim's mouth. This is done to deliver oxygen to the victim to help their brain and vital organs survive. Masks and other barrier devices are available to decrease the risk disease transmission when giving rescue breaths.

Chest Compressions

When a person suffers sudden cardiac arrest, death is imminent unless he receives help immediately. In CPR, rescue breathing is combined with chest compressions to send oxygen-containing blood to the brain and vital organs for a person who is not breathing and whose heart is not beating.The rescuer applies chest compressions by pushing down on the victim's breastbone, between the nipples This action pushes down on the heart, forcing blood to circulate. Cycles of rescue breaths and chest compressions continue until medical help arrives.


Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to a person of any age. Friends, family or even strangers trained to respond can increase the victim's chances for survival. Effective rescue breathing allows the victim who is not breathing to receive the oxygen that is necessary to sustain life. Chest compressions push blood to the brain and vital organs. In addition to calling for emergency medical help, bystander CPR increases the victim's chances for surviving the event.

Compression-Only CPR

The American Heart Association issued a statement in 2008 that the use of compression-only CPR could be an effective means of providing CPR to an adult victim of a sudden, witnessed, cardiac arrest in the community setting 124. In compression-only CPR, the rescuer performs only chest compressions, without pausing to deliver rescue breaths The American Heart Association acknowledged that the fear of performing mouth-to-mouth breathing is a significant deterrent to bystander response, and that performing compression-only CPR was more helpful than doing no CPR at all 124.

Learning More

CPR skills, including rescue breathing, can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency. The American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer classes in many communities 124. There are also online training opportunities, and the CPR Anytime kit is available from the American Heart Association 124. CPR Anytime includes a manikin and video to allow people to learn and practice the skills of CPR right in their own home.