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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) in Adults


Robert E. O’Connor

, MD, MPH, University of Virginia School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
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Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an organized, sequential response to cardiac arrest, including

  • Recognition of absent breathing and circulation

  • Basic life support with chest compressions and rescue breathing

  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) with definitive airway and rhythm control

  • Postresuscitative care

Prompt initiation of uninterrupted chest compression and early defibrillation (when indicated) are the keys to success. Speed, efficiency, and proper application of CPR with the least possible interruptions determine successful outcome; the rare exception is profound hypothermia caused by cold water immersion, when successful resuscitation may be accomplished even after prolonged arrest (up to 60 minutes).

Overview of CPR

(See also the American Heart Association's guidelines for CPR and emergency cardiovascular care.)

Guidelines for health care professionals from the American Heart Association are followed (see figure Adult comprehensive emergency cardiac care). If a person has collapsed with possible cardiac arrest, a rescuer first establishes unresponsiveness and confirms absence of breathing or the presence of only gasping respirations. Then, the rescuer calls for help. Anyone answering is directed to activate the emergency response system (or appropriate in-hospital resuscitation personnel) and, if possible, obtain a defibrillator.

If no one responds, the rescuer first activates the emergency response system and then begins basic life support by giving 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120/minute and then opening the airway (lifting the chin and tilting back the forehead) and giving 2 rescue breaths. The cycle of compressions and breaths is continued (see table CPR Techniques for Health Care Practitioners) without interruption; preferably each rescuer is relieved every 2 minutes.

When a defibrillator (manual or automated) becomes available, a person in ventricular fibrillation (VF) or pulseless ventricular tachycardia (VT) is given an unsynchronized shock (see also Defibrillation). If the cardiac arrest is witnessed and a defibrillator is on the scene, a person in VF or VT is immediately defibrillated; early defibrillation may promptly convert VF or pulseless VT to a perfusing rhythm. It is recommended that untrained bystanders begin and maintain continuous chest compressions until skilled help arrives.

Adult comprehensive emergency cardiac care

Adult comprehensive emergency cardiac care

* If an adequate number of trained personnel are available, patient assessment, CPR, and activation of the emergency response system should occur simultaneously.

Based on the Comprehensive Emergency Cardiac Care Algorithm from the American Heart Association.

The techniques used in basic 1- and 2-rescuer CPR are listed in Table CPR Techniques for Health Care Practitioners. Mastery is best acquired by hands-on training such as that provided in the US under the auspices of the American Heart Association (1-800-AHA-USA1) or corresponding organizations in other countries.


CPR Techniques for Health Care Practitioners

Age Group

One-Rescuer CPR*

Two-Rescuer CPR

Breath Size

Adults and adolescents

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 30 chest compressions at 100–120/minute

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 30 chest compressions at 100–120/minute †

Each breath about 500 mL (caution against hyperventilation)

Children (1 year––puberty) ‡

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 30 chest compressions at 100–120/minute

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 15 chest compressions at 100–120/minute †

Smaller breaths than for adults (enough to make chest rise)

Infants (< 1 year, excluding newborns)

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 30 chest compressions at 100–120/minute

2 breaths (1 second each) after every 15 chest compressions at 100–120/minute †

Only small puffs from the rescuer’s cheeks

* For a single lay rescuer, compression-only CPR is recommended in adults and adolescents.

† Breaths are given without stopping chest compressions.

‡ Puberty is defined as the appearance of breasts in females and axillary hair in males.

Airway and Breathing

Opening the airway is given 2nd priority (see Clearing and Opening the Upper Airway) after beginning chest compressions. For mechanical measures regarding resuscitation in children, see table Guide to Pediatric Resuscitation—Mechanical Measures.

Mouth-to-mouth (adults, adolescents, and children) or combined mouth-to-mouth-and-nose (infants) rescue breathing or bag-valve-mask ventilation is begun for asphyxial cardiac arrest. If available, an oropharyngeal airway may be inserted. Cricoid pressure is not recommended.

If abdominal distention develops, the airway is rechecked for patency and the amount of air delivered during rescue breathing is reduced. Nasogastric intubation to relieve gastric distention is delayed until suction equipment is available because regurgitation with aspiration of gastric contents may occur during insertion. If marked gastric distention interferes with ventilation and cannot be corrected by the above methods, patients are positioned on their side, the epigastrium is compressed, and the airway is cleared.

When qualified providers are present, an advanced airway (endotracheal tube or supraglottic device) is placed without interruption of chest compression as described under Airway Establishment and Control. A breath is given every 6 seconds (10 breaths/minute) without interrupting chest compression. However, chest compression and defibrillation take precedence over endotracheal intubation. Unless highly experienced providers are available, endotracheal intubation may be delayed in favor of ventilation with bag-valve-mask, laryngeal mask airway, or similar device.


Chest compression

In witnessed cardiac arrest, chest compression should be done without interruption until defibrillation is available. In an unresponsive patient whose collapse was unwitnessed, the trained rescuer should immediately begin external (closed chest) cardiac compression, followed by rescue breathing. Chest compressions must not be interrupted for >10 seconds (eg, for intubation, central IV catheter placement, or transport). A compression cycle should consist of 50% compression and 50% release; during the release phase, it is important to allow the chest to recoil fully. Rhythm interpretation and defibrillation (if appropriate) are done as soon as a defibrillator is available.

The recommended chest compression depth for adults is about 5 to 6 cm (between 2 and 2.5 in). Ideally, external cardiac compression produces a palpable pulse with each compression, although cardiac output is only 20 to 30% of normal. However, palpation of pulses during chest compression is difficult, even for experienced clinicians, and often unreliable. End-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring may provide a better estimate of cardiac output during chest compression; patients with inadequate perfusion have little venous return to the lungs and hence a low end-tidal carbon dioxide. Restoration of spontaneous breathing or eye opening indicates restoration of spontaneous circulation.

Mechanical chest compression devices are available; these devices are as effective as properly executed manual compressions and can minimize effects of performance error and fatigue. They can be helpful in some circumstances, such as during patient transport or in the cardiac catheterization laboratory.

Open-chest cardiac compression may be effective but is used only in patients with penetrating chest injuries, shortly after cardiac surgery (ie, within 48 hours), in cases of cardiac tamponade, and most especially after cardiac arrest in the operating room when the patient’s chest is already open. However, thoracotomy requires training and experience and is best done only within these limited indications.

Complications of chest compression

Laceration of the liver is a rare but potentially serious (sometimes fatal) complication and is usually caused by compressing the abdomen below the sternum. Rupture of the stomach (particularly if the stomach is distended with air) is also a rare complication. Delayed rupture of the spleen is very rare. An occasional complication, however, is regurgitation followed by aspiration of gastric contents, causing life-threatening aspiration pneumonia in resuscitated patients.

Costochondral separation and fractured ribs often cannot be avoided because it is important to compress the chest deeply enough to produce sufficient blood flow. Fractures are quite rare in children because of the flexibility of the chest wall. Bone marrow emboli to the lungs have rarely been reported after external cardiac compression, but there is no clear evidence that they contribute to mortality. Lung injury is rare, but pneumothorax after a penetrating rib fracture may occur. Serious myocardial injury caused by compression is very unlikely, with the possible exception of injury to a preexisting ventricular aneurysm. Concern for these injuries should not deter the rescuer from doing CPR.


The most common rhythm in witnessed adult cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation (VF); rapid conversion to a perfusing rhythm is essential. Pulseless ventricular tachycardia (VT) is treated the same as VF.

Prompt direct-current cardioversion is more effective than antiarrhythmic drugs; however, the success of defibrillation is time dependent, with about a 10% decline in success after each minute of VF (or pulseless VT). Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) allow minimally trained rescuers to treat VT or VF. Their use by first responders (police and fire services) and their prominent availability in public locations has increased the likelihood of resuscitation.

Defibrillating paddles or pads are placed between the clavicle and the 2nd intercostal space along the right sternal border and over the 5th or 6th intercostal space at the apex of the heart (in the mid-axillary line). Conventional defibrillator paddles are used with conducting paste; pads have conductive gel incorporated into them. Only 1 initial countershock is now advised (the previous recommendation was 3 stacked shocks), after which chest compression is resumed. Energy level for biphasic defibrillators is between 120 and 200 joules (2 joules/kg in children) for the initial shock; monophasic defibrillators are set at 360 joules for the initial shock. Postshock rhythm is not checked until after 2 minutes of chest compression. Subsequent shocks are delivered at the same or higher energy level (maximum 360 joules in adults, or 10 joules/kg in children). Patients remaining in VF or VT receive continued chest compression and ventilation and optional drug therapy.

Monitor and IV

Electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring is established to identify the underlying cardiac rhythm. An IV line may be started; 2 lines minimize the risk of losing IV access during CPR. Large-bore peripheral lines in the antecubital veins are preferred. In adults and children, if a peripheral line cannot be established, a subclavian or internal jugular central line (see Procedure) can be placed provided it can be done without stopping chest compression (often difficult). Intraosseous and femoral lines (see Intraosseous Infusion) are the preferred alternatives, especially in children. Femoral vein catheters (see Procedure), preferably long catheters advanced centrally, are an option because CPR does not need to be stopped and they have less potential for lethal complications; however, they may have a lower rate of successful placement because no discrete femoral arterial pulsations are available to guide insertion.

The type and volume of fluids or drugs given depend on the clinical circumstances. Usually, IV 0.9% saline is given slowly (sufficient only to keep an IV line open); vigorous volume replacement (crystalloid and colloid solutions, blood) is required only when arrest results from hypovolemia (see Intravenous Fluid Resuscitation).

Special Circumstances

In accidental electrical shock, rescuers must be certain that the patient is no longer in contact with the electrical source to avoid shocking themselves. Use of nonmetallic grapples or rods and grounding of the rescuer allows for safe removal of the patient before starting CPR.

In drowning, rescue breathing may be started in shallow water, although chest compression is not likely to be effectively done until the patient is placed horizontally on a firm surface, such as a surfboard or float.

If cardiac arrest follows traumatic injury, airway opening maneuvers and a brief period of external ventilation after clearing the airway have the highest priority because airway obstruction is the most likely treatable cause of arrest. To minimize cervical spine injury, jaw thrust, but not head tilt and chin lift, is advised. Other survivable causes of traumatic cardiac arrest include cardiac tamponade and tension pneumothorax, for which immediate needle decompression is lifesaving. However, most patients with traumatic cardiac arrest have severe hypovolemia due to blood loss (for which chest compression may be ineffective) or nonsurvivable brain injuries.

Drugs for ACLS

Despite widespread and long-standing use, no drug or drug combination has been definitively shown to increase survival to hospital discharge in patients with cardiac arrest. Some drugs do seem to improve the likelihood of restoration of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) and thus may reasonably be given (for dosing, including pediatric, see table Drugs for Resuscitation). Drug therapy for shock and cardiac arrest continues to be researched.


Drugs for Resuscitation*


Adult Dose

Pediatric Dose



6 mg initially, then 12 mg × 2

0.1 mg/kg initially, then 0.2 mg/kg × 2

Rapid IV push is followed by flush (maximum single dose 12 mg).


For VF/pulseless VT: 300 mg IV push over 2 minutes

For VF/pulseless VT: 5 mg/kg IV push over 2 minutes

For perfusing VT:

  • Loading dose: 150 mg IV push over 10 minutes

  • Infusion (drip): 1 mg/minute × 6 hours, then 0.5 mg/minute × 24 hours

For perfusing VT: 5 mg/kg over 10 minutes, may repeat twice to a maximum of 15 mg/kg/day


0.5–1 mg, repeat every 3–5 minutes to effect or total dose of 3 mg, minimum dose 0.5 mg

0.02 mg/kg, repeat once in 3–5 minutes if needed, minimum dose 0.1 mg

Calcium chloride

1 g

20 mg/kg

10% solution contains 100 mg/mL.

Calcium gluceptate‡

0.66 g


22% solution contains 220 mg/mL.

Calcium gluconate

1 g

20 mg/kg

10% solution contains 100 mg/mL.


2–5 mcg/kg/minute –increasing as needed to maximum 20 mcg/kg/min

Same as adult dose

500 mg in 250 mL 5% D/W gives 2000 mcg/mL.


2–5 mcg/kg/minute increasing as needed to maximum 20 mcg/kg/min)

Same as adult dose

400 mg in 250 mL 5% D/W gives 1600 mcg/mL.


Bolus: 1 mg

Infusion: 2–10 mcg/minute

Bolus: 0.01 mg/kg

Infusion: 0.1–1.0 mcg/kg/minute

Repeat every 3–5 minutes as needed.

8 mg in 250 mL 5% D/W gives 32 mcg/mL.


25 g 50% D/W

0.5–1 g/kg

Avoid high concentrations in infants and young children.

5% D/W: Give 10–20 mL/kg.

10% D/W: Give 5–10 mL/kg.

25% D/W: Give 2–4 mL/kg.

For older children, use a large vein.


1–1.5 mg/kg; repeat every 5–10 minutes to a maximum of 3 mg/kg

Loading dose: 1 mg/kg

Infusion: 20–50 mcg/kg/minute

In adults, lidocaine may be considered after ROSC for VF/VT (eg, if myocardial ischemia is thought to have precipitated the VT/VF).

In children, lidocaine may be used instead of amiodarone for refractory VF/VT.

Magnesium sulfate

1–2 g

25–50 mg/kg to a maximum of 2 g

Give over 2–5 minutes.


2 mg intranasal or 0.4 mg IM

0.1 mg/kg if patients are < 20 kg or < 5 years

Repeat as needed.


Infusion: 2–16 mcg/minute

Infusion: Starting with 0.05–0.1 mcg/kg/minute (maximum dose 2 mcg/kg/minute)

8 mg in 250 mL 5% D/W gives 32 mcg/mL.


Infusion: 0.1–1.5 mcg/kg/minute

Infusion: 0.1–0.5 mcg/kg/minute

10 mg in 250 mL 5% D/W gives 40 mcg/mL.


30 mg/minute to effect or a maximum of 17 mg/kg

Same as adult dose

Procainamide is not recommended for pulseless arrest in children.

Sodium bicarbonate

50 mEq

1 mEq/kg

Infuse slowly and only when ventilation is adequate.

4.2% contains 0.5 mEq/mL; 8.4% contains 1 mEq/mL.

* For indications and use, see text.

† IV or intraosseous.

‡ Rarely used.

D/W = dextrose in water; ROSC = restoration of spontaneous circulation; VF = ventricular fibrillation; VT = ventricular tachycardia.

In a patient with a peripheral IV line, drug administration is followed by a fluid bolus (“wide open” IV in adults; 3 to 5 mL in young children) to flush the drug into the central circulation. In a patient without IV or intraosseous access, naloxone, atropine, and epinephrine, when indicated, may be given via the endotracheal tube at 2 to 2.5 times the IV dose. During administration of a drug via endotracheal tube, compression should be briefly stopped.

First-line drugs

The main first-line drug used in cardiac arrest is

  • Epinephrine

Epinephrine may be given 1 mg IV every 3 to 5 minutes. It has combined alpha-adrenergic and beta-adrenergic effects. The alpha-adrenergic effects may augment coronary diastolic pressure, thereby increasing subendocardial perfusion during chest compressions. Epinephrine also increases the likelihood of successful defibrillation. However, beta-adrenergic effects may be detrimental because they increase oxygen requirements (especially of the heart) and cause vasodilation. Intracardiac injection of epinephrine is not recommended because, in addition to interrupting precordial compression, pneumothorax, coronary artery laceration, and cardiac tamponade may occur.

Amiodarone 300 mg can be given once if defibrillation is unsuccessful after epinephrine, followed by 1 dose of 150 mg. It is also of potential value if VT or VF recurs after successful defibrillation; a lower dose is given over 10 minutes followed by a continuous infusion. There is no persuasive proof that it increases survival to hospital discharge.

A single dose of vasopressin 40 units, which has a duration of activity of 40 minutes, is an alternative to epinephrine (adults only). However, it is no more effective than epinephrine and is therefore no longer recommended in the American Heart Association's guidelines. However, in the unlikely case of a lack of epinephrine during CPR, vasopressin may be substituted.

Other drugs

A range of additional drugs may be useful in specific settings.

Atropine sulfate is a vagolytic drug that increases heart rate and conduction through the atrioventricular node. It is given for symptomatic bradyarrhythmias and high-degree atrioventricular nodal block. It is no longer recommended for asystole or pulseless electrical activity.

Calcium chloride is recommended for patients with hyperkalemia, hypermagnesemia, hypocalcemia, or calcium channel blocker toxicity. In other patients, because intracellular calcium is already higher than normal, additional calcium is likely to be detrimental. Because cardiac arrest in patients on renal dialysis is often a result of or accompanied by hyperkalemia, these patients may benefit from a trial of calcium if bedside potassium determination is unavailable. Caution is necessary because calcium exacerbates digitalis toxicity and can cause cardiac arrest.

Lidocaine is not recommended for routine use during cardiac arrest. However, it may be helpful as an alternative to amiodarone for VF or VT that is unresponsive to defibrillation (in children) or after ROSC due to VF or VT (in adults).

Magnesium sulfate has not been shown to improve outcome in randomized clinical studies. However, it may be helpful in patients with torsades de pointes or known or suspected magnesium deficiency (ie, alcoholics, patients with protracted diarrhea).

Procainamide is a 2nd-line drug for treatment of refractory VF or VT. However, procainamide is not recommended for pulseless arrest in children.

Phenytoin may rarely be used to treat VF or VT, but only when VF or VT is due to digitalis toxicity and is refractory to other drugs. A dose of 50 to 100 mg/minute every 5 minutes is given until rhythm improves or the total dose reaches 20 mg/kg.

Sodium bicarbonate is no longer recommended unless cardiac arrest is caused by hyperkalemia, hypermagnesemia, or tricyclic antidepressant overdose with complex ventricular arrhythmias. In children, sodium bicarbonate may be considered when cardiac arrest is prolonged (> 10 minutes); it is given only if there is good ventilation. When sodium bicarbonate is used, arterial pH should be monitored before infusion and after each 50-mEq dose (1 to 2 mEq/kg in children).

Dysrhythmia Treatment

VF or pulseless VT is treated with one direct-current shock, preferably with biphasic waveform, as soon as possible after those rhythms are identified. Despite some laboratory evidence to the contrary, it is not recommended to delay defibrillation to administer a period of chest compressions. Chest compression should be interrupted as little as possible and for no more than 10 seconds at a time for defibrillation. Recommended energy levels for defibrillation vary: 120 to 200 joules for biphasic waveform and 360 joules for monophasic. If this treatment is unsuccessful, epinephrine 1 mg IV is administered and repeated every 3 to 5 minutes. Defibrillation at the same energy level or higher is attempted 1 minute after each drug administration. If VF persists, amiodarone 300 mg IV is given. Then, if VF/VT recurs, 150 mg is given followed by infusion of 1 mg/minute for 6 hours, then 0.5 mg/minute. Current versions of AEDs provide a pediatric cable that effectively reduces the energy delivered to children. (For pediatric energy levels, see Defibrillation; for drug doses, see table Drugs for Resuscitation.)

Asystole can be mimicked by a loose or disconnected monitor lead; thus, monitor connections should be checked and the rhythm viewed in an alternative lead. If asystole is confirmed, the patient is given epinephrine 1 mg IV repeated every 3 to 5 minutes. Defibrillation of apparent asystole (because it “might be fine VF”) is discouraged because electrical shocks injure the nonperfused heart.

Pulseless electrical activity is circulatory collapse that occurs despite satisfactory electrical complexes on the ECG. Patients with pulseless electrical activity receive 500- to 1000-mL (20 mL/kg for children) infusion of 0.9% saline. Epinephrine may be given in amounts of 0.5 to 1.0 mg IV repeated every 3 to 5 minutes. Cardiac tamponade can cause pulseless electrical activity, but this disorder usually occurs in patients after thoracotomy and in patients with known pericardial effusion or major chest trauma. In such settings, immediate pericardiocentesis or thoracotomy is done (see figure Pericardiocentesis). Tamponade is rarely an occult cause of cardiac arrest but, if suspected, can be confirmed by ultrasonography or, if ultrasonography is unavailable, pericardiocentesis.

Termination of Resuscitation

CPR should be continued until the cardiopulmonary system is stabilized, the patient is pronounced dead, or a lone rescuer is physically unable to continue. If cardiac arrest is thought to be due to hypothermia, CPR should be continued until the body is rewarmed to 34° C.

The decision to terminate resuscitation is a clinical one, and clinicians take into account duration of arrest, age of the patient, and prognosis of underlying medical conditions. The decision is typically made when spontaneous circulation has not been established after CPR and ACLS measures have been done. In intubated patients, an end-tidal carbon dioxide (ETCO2) level of < 10 mm Hg is a poor prognostic sign.

Postresuscitative Care

Restoration of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) is only an intermediate goal in resuscitation. The ultimate goal is survival to hospital discharge with good neurologic function, which is achieved by only a minority of patients with ROSC. To maximize the likelihood of a good outcome, clinicians must provide good supportive care (eg, manage blood pressure, temperature, and cardiac rhythm) and treat underlying conditions, particularly acute coronary syndromes.

Postresuscitation laboratory studies include arterial blood gases (ABG), complete blood count (CBC), and blood chemistries, including electrolytes, glucose, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine, and cardiac markers. (Creatine kinase is usually elevated because of skeletal muscle damage caused by CPR; troponins, which are unlikely to be affected by CPR or defibrillation, are preferred.) Arterial PaO2 should be kept near normal values (80 to 100 mm Hg). Hematocrit should be maintained at 30% (if cardiac etiology is suspected), and glucose at 140 to 180 mg/dL (7.7 to 9.9 mmol/L); electrolytes, especially potassium, should be within the normal range.

Coronary angiography

When indicated, coronary angiography should be done emergently (rather than later during the hospital course) so that if percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is needed, it is done as soon as possible. The decision to do cardiac catheterization after resuscitation from cardiac arrest should be individualized based on the electrocardiogram (ECG), the interventional cardiologist's clinical impression, and the patient's prognosis. However, guidelines suggest doing emergency angiography for adult patients in whom a cardiac cause is suspected and who have

  • ST-segment elevation (STEMI), or new left bundle branch block (LBBB) on the ECG

Some researchers advocate liberal use of cardiac catheterization after ROSC, doing the procedure on most patients unless the etiology is clearly unlikely to be cardiac (eg, drowning) or there are contraindications (eg, intracranial bleeding).

Neurologic support

Only about 10% of all cardiac arrest survivors have good central nervous system function (cerebral performance category [CPC] score] 1 or 2—see table Cerebral Performance Category Scale) at hospital discharge. A CPC score of 1 is indicative of good cerebral performance (patient is conscious, alert, able to work but may have mild neurologic or psychologic deficit). A CPC score of 2 is indicative of moderate cerebral performance ( patient is conscious, able to do activities of daily living (ADLs) and work in a simple environment. Hypoxic brain injury is a result of ischemic damage and cerebral edema (see pathophysiology of cardiac arrest). Both damage and recovery may evolve over 48 to 72 hours after resuscitation.


Cerebral Performance Category Scale (Adult)*





Normal (good cerebral performance)

Conscious, alert, able to work and lead a normal life

May have minor psychological or neurologic deficits (eg, mild dysphasia, non-incapacitating hemiparesis, minor cranial nerve abnormalities)


Moderate disability (disabled but independent)

Conscious, with sufficient cerebral function for part-time work in sheltered environment or to do independent activities of daily life (eg, dress, travel by public transportation, prepare food)

May have hemiplegia, seizures, ataxia, dysarthria, dysphasia, or permanent memory or mental changes


Severe disability (conscious but disabled and dependent)

Conscious, but dependent on others for daily support (in an institution or at home with exceptional family effort).Has at least limited cognition

This category includes a wide range of neurologic dysfunction, from patients who are ambulatory but have severe memory disturbances or dementia precluding independent existence to those who are paralyzed and can communicate only with their eyes (as in the locked-in syndrome).


Unconscious (coma or vegetative state)

Unconscious, unaware of surroundings, no cognition. No verbal or psychologic interaction with environment


Brain death

Meeting criteria for brain death or dead by traditional criteria

* Worst level of performance for any single criterion is used for categorizing. Deficits are scored only if they result from a neurologic disorder. Assessments are based on medical records or an interview with the caretaker.

Maintenance of oxygenation and cerebral perfusion pressure (avoiding hypotension) may reduce cerebral complications. Both hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia may damage the post-ischemic brain and should be treated.

In adults, targeted temperature management (maintaining body temperature of 32 to 36° C) is recommended for patients who remain unresponsive after spontaneous circulation has returned (1, 2). Cooling is begun as soon as spontaneous circulation has returned. Techniques to induce and maintain hypothermia can be either external or invasive. External cooling methods are easy to apply and range from the use of external ice packs to several commercially available external cooling devices that circulate high volumes of chilled water over the skin. For internal cooling, chilled IV fluids (4° C) can be rapidly infused to lower body temperature, but this method may be problematic in patients who cannot tolerate much additional fluid volume. Also available are external heat-exchange devices that circulate chilled saline to an indwelling IV heat-exchange catheter using a closed-loop design in which chilled saline circulates through the catheter and back to the device, rather than into the patient. Another invasive method for cooling uses an extracorporeal device that circulates and cools blood externally then returns it to the central circulation. Regardless of the method chosen, the goal is to cool the patient rapidly and to maintain the core temperature between 32° C and 36° C. Currently, there is no evidence that any specific temperature within this range is superior, but it is imperative to avoid hyperthermia.

Numerous pharmacologic treatments, including free radical scavengers, antioxidants, glutamate inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers, are of theoretic benefit; many have been successful in animal models, but none have proved effective in human trials.

Blood pressure support

Current recommendations are to maintain a mean arterial pressure (MAP) of > 80 mm Hg in older adults or > 60 mm Hg in younger and previously healthy patients. In patients known to be hypertensive, a reasonable target is systolic blood pressure (BP) 30 mm Hg below prearrest level. MAP is best measured with an intra-arterial catheter. Use of a flow-directed pulmonary artery catheter for hemodynamic monitoring has been largely discarded.

BP support includes

  • IV 0.9% saline

  • Sometimes inotropic or vasopressor drugs

  • Rarely intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation

Patients with low MAP and low central venous pressure should have IV fluid challenge with 0.9% saline infused in 250-mL increments.

Although use of inotropic and vasopressor drugs has not proved to enhance long-term survival, older adults with moderately low MAP (70 to 80 mm Hg) and normal or high central venous pressure may receive an infusion of an inotrope (eg, dobutamine started at 2 to 5 mcg/kg/minute). Amrinone or milrinone are alternatives that are rarely used (see table Drugs for Resuscitation).

If this therapy is ineffective, the inotrope and vasoconstrictor dopamine may be considered. Alternatives are epinephrine and the peripheral vasoconstrictors norepinephrine and phenylephrine (see table Drugs for Resuscitation). However, vasoactive drugs should be used at the minimal dose necessary to achieve low-normal MAP because they may increase vascular resistance and decrease organ perfusion, especially in the mesenteric bed. They also increase the workload of the heart at a time when its capability is decreased because of postresuscitation myocardial dysfunction.

If MAP remains < 70 mm Hg in patients who may have sustained a myocardial infarction (MI), intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation should be considered. Patients with normal MAP and high central venous pressure may improve with either inotropic therapy or afterload reduction with nitroprusside or nitroglycerin.

Intra-aortic balloon counterpulsation can assist low-output circulatory states due to left ventricular pump failure that is refractory to drugs. A balloon catheter is introduced via the femoral artery, percutaneously or by arteriotomy, retrograde into the thoracic aorta just distal to the left subclavian artery. The balloon inflates during each diastole, augmenting coronary artery perfusion, and deflates during systole, decreasing afterload. Its primary value is as a temporizing measure when the cause of shock is potentially correctable by surgery or percutaneous intervention (eg, acute MI with major coronary obstruction, acute mitral insufficiency, ventricular septal defect).

Dysrhythmia treatment

Although ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT) may recur after resuscitation, prophylactic antiarrhythmic drugs do not improve survival and are no longer routinely used. However, patients manifesting such rhythms may be treated with procainamide (see Other drugs) or amiodarone (see First-line drugs).

Postresuscitation rapid supraventricular tachycardias occur frequently because of high levels of beta-adrenergic catecholamines (both endogenous and exogenous) during cardiac arrest and resuscitation. These rhythms should be treated if extreme, prolonged, or associated with hypotension or signs of coronary ischemia. An esmolol IV infusion is given, beginning at 50 mcg/kg/min.

Patients who had arrest caused by VF or VT not associated with acute MI are candidates for an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). Current ICDs are implanted similarly to pacemakers and have intracardiac leads and sometimes subcutaneous electrodes. They can sense arrhythmias and deliver either cardioversion or cardiac pacing as indicated.

Postresuscitative care references

More Information

  • American Heart Association's guidelines for CPR and emergency cardiovascular care

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