The ABCs of CPR: Airway, Breathing, Circulation


The ABCs of CPR: airway, breathing, and circulation, are the foundational steps in performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) in the event of a cardiac arrest or trauma injuries. Whatever the occurrence, the ABCs of CPR are skills everyone should be well acquainted with, trained and practiced, because they ensure the proper order and sequence of actions to maximize the chances of successfully resuscitating the person in need.

There is no replacement for formal training in CPR and first aid. Certification lasts for two years, so if it has been more than two years since your last class, it’s time to sign up for a new course. Practiced hands make for assured hands. Doctors and nurses continually refine their skills and lay people are no exception.

In the meantime, we have all the important information you need to know.

When to Administer CPR?

Knowing how to assess the situation and when to begin with CPR is a skill taught in CPR classes. If a person suddenly collapses, loses consciousness, or requires rescue breathing, you will need to perform CPR. Other emergencies include when a person’s heart stops beating, they have been electrocuted or in the case of drowning, drug use, and smoke exposure.

If someone has been choking, you must perform the Heimlich maneuver and then begin CPR if they are still unconscious. Stroke emergencies may require immediate CPR, and you will need to perform these life-saving techniques in the case of a cardiac arrest.

It may also become necessary for shock management if the person ceases to breathe or shows no clear signs of life. With so many possible reasons to administer CPR, you can see how essential it is to familiarize yourself with the technique.

The ABCs of CPR for Adults

In the case of an emergency, the most important step you must remember is to alert emergency response teams when you ascertain the victim is unconscious or not breathing. If you are alone, call 911 before you begin CPR. If there are others present, tell someone to call 911 and start with resuscitation.

Regarding the ABCs of CPR, A stands for airway, B is for breathing, and C is for circulation. The ABCs tell the order in which you should perform the CPR life-saving techniques, although some experts are advocates for a CAB sequence. Regardless of the order, it’s imperative to understand what the steps require.

Practice and follow these steps of critical care for the best outcomes.


Airway management is paramount in victims suffering from respiratory failure as it can lead to cardiac arrest. You must clear the airway and begin with rescue breaths. Start by tilting the victim’s head back at about a 45-degree angle – slightly further than neutral. As you tilt the head back, also bring the chin forward.

Once you have the head in the proper position, you must check that the throat is free of obstructions. Visually inspect the airway. If you see something lodged that you can easily remove, you may do so by creating a hook with your finger. Do not push your finger into the cavity, as you risk forcing the obstruction further down the throat. If it cannot be dislodged, leave it where it is.


Check for signs of breath in the victim. In the case of someone who is not in distress, they should have 12 to 20 breaths every minute. If the breathing is less than this and thready, you should begin breathing over the mouth.

Tilt the head back and provide mouth-to-mouth breaths. If you are performing mouth-to-mouth on an adult, you’ll provide two life-saving breaths and 30 chest compressions. If a bag mask is available, you should take advantage of it. This will also help prevent the possible spread of infection.

Breathe 10-12 breaths per minute (pinching the nose closed), and once again, make sure you can see the chest rise and fall as you perform the procedure. If the victim does not regain consciousness, continue immediately with CPR.

When performing CPR, if, for any reason, you do not feel comfortable providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, at least perform the chest compressions. Although experts debate the validity of rescue breathing, everyone agrees that chest compressions increase the chances of the victim surviving long enough to be attended to by medical staff.

Circulation or Compression

If a victim loses consciousness or is not breathing properly, chest compressions need to begin almost immediately. Within the first 10 seconds is ideal and you’ll get the blood pumping around their bodies quickly and increase their chances of surviving longer.

You should try to restore blood circulation so that the vital organs, such as the brain, are not deprived of oxygen for too long, as it can lead to other, more serious medical conditions.

The ABCs of CPR for Children and Infants

If you have children at home or work with children, knowing the steps to perform CPR on them in case of an emergency is crucial. Because of their smaller bodies, there are some variations to understand.

Airway. First, you need to check for a blockage in the airway. If there is an object obstructing the throat, you’ll need to remove it by applying techniques like back blows or chest thrusts. If it is a case of congestion in the nose, you can use a bulb syringe to remove the mucus.

Breathing. In terms of breathing, you will tilt a child’s head back to the same position as an adult’s and blow into their mouth for a full second. You’ll need to cover the mouth and nose with your mouth. You’ll increase the number of breaths slightly at a rate of 12-20 per minute.

With a baby, you will tilt their head only to a neutral position. Once again, make sure the chest rises and falls, and the air has had a chance to leave the body before you give them their second breath.

After the two breaths, continue chest compressions until they have regained consciousness or medical teams have arrived. In the case of infants, you’ll make two breaths, but only 15 compressions between breaths. Make sure the breaths are adequate to create a rise and fall in the chest.

Circulation. In the case of a child, you will follow the same steps. However you need to interlace your fingers with one hand above the other, palms facing downwards. If they are a small child, you’ll use only one hand.

For a baby, you’ll use either two fingers or two thumbs above their sternum. You won’t want their chest to compress two inches as with an adult or a child; only an inch and a half. If it is difficult to compress at this depth with the use of only your fingers, you can revert to one hand.

Additional Life-Saving Tools and Knowledge

If you have taken a CPR/First Aid course and practiced life-saving techniques, or if you have covered AED use and know where to access one, what else can you do?

An additional tool may be oxygen administration. If rescue breathing has been done and your victim is still showing signs that they are struggling to breathe, they may need supplemental oxygen. If you have access to supplemental oxygen, you can use this to help the victim recover.

Acquaint yourself with other basic life support techniques, such as helping a heart attack victim and the Heimlich maneuver. If someone has lost consciousness due to choking, this technique could be essential. The Heimlich maneuver for adults, children, and infants is different, so be sure to understand which one to use and how to perform it properly. This will dislodge the obstruction in the airway most effectively, as well as prevent injuries to the ribcage.

If you have access to AEDs or oxygen tanks, check their functioning and readiness on a regular basis. Many AEDs have the ability to perform daily self-checks, and you need only to check that the light is on. Also, check for and attend classes in your community to learn how to use an AED device.

Final Thoughts

Emergencies rarely happen within a hospital’s walls, and at times it can take too long for a professional to be at the victim’s side. Keep in mind that every single minute counts when the heart and other vital organs are deprived of oxygen and blood.

The first choice is always to be prepared for an emergency by participating in a training course. Practicing and understanding the necessary life-sustaining steps will help you to feel calmer when someone’s life is at risk.