In this article, we outline the basic concepts of Basic Life Support, and the steps required to provide basic life support to someone who has experienced a heart attack.
In addition to reading this article, we recommend seeking training from a qualified professional if you would like to learn the skills required to be a competent Basic Life Support provider.
What is Basic Life Support?
Basic Life Support describes a type of temporary treatment given to people experiencing cardiac arrest (heart attack) while waiting for more intensive medical treatment to become available.
Most countries around the world have formulated a set of first aid practices, which they refer to as basic life support, which can be taught to members of the public who undertake the training.
In some cases, the profession, or job that someone is employed in will require them to have basic life support certification, and in other cases, members of the public will voluntarily sign up for basic life support training, because they believe it is a good thing for ordinary citizens to know in case they are put in a situation where somebody requires emergency medical assistance.
Basic life support does not include the use of drugs or advanced and invasive medical skills and can be contrasted with advanced life support, which is often taught to and used by qualified medical professionals.
Basic life support is one of the key treatments for a heart attack (cardiac arrest) and has helped save thousands of thousands of lives.
Basic life support provides the opportunity for someone who has experienced a heart attack to get the treatment they need to stay alive until professional medical personnel can arrive, or until an external defibrillator can be located and set up for treatment.
There is an element of worldwide consensus on the basic steps included in basic life support, however, each country has its own prescribed rules that are taught to the members of the public and professionals of that country.
What Does Basic Life Support Do?
Basic Life Support helps to pump blood throughout the body, delivering oxygen to all cells, and removing metabolic waste.
Also known as CPR, basic life support describes a series of actions you can perform on someone whose heart has stopped beating.
Basic Life Support should not be conducted unless you have received the appropriate training from a qualified BLS instructor. This article is intended for general information only.
What Are The Steps Of Basic Life Support?
The Basic Life Support steps can easily be memorized using the acronym DRS ABC, formerly DR ABC. Each of these steps will be described in detail throughout the rest of this article.
Before you do anything it is important to ensure that it is safe to approach the victim. To do this look around and listen to see if there are obvious signs of danger. For example, the person you are considering treating could have been electrocuted, and if you rush in to help you could potentially electrocute yourself as well, at which point you have potentially lost your life for nothing, and have not been of any help to the other person.
Once you are satisfied there is no danger, you can approach the victim and assess whether they are able to respond to you.
This is easiest done by shaking the person by the shoulders, asking with a clear audible voice whether they are ok, or rubbing their sternum with your knuckle.
Send For Help
Once you have approached the victim and gauged their responsiveness you should then send for help, by either getting the attention of someone nearby to call the emergency services (Ambulance, etc.) or calling the emergency services yourself if there is no one else around.
If the patient is unresponsive, place them on their back. The reason for this is so you can assess and clear their airway to ensure air is able to enter their body.
Tilt their head back and pull the jaw down to open the airway.
If their airway is obstructed in some way, attempt to clear the obstruction without putting yourself or your fingers at risk.
Once you have cleared the airway you need to assess whether the person is breathing. The easiest way to check this is to look for any movement in their chest.
If you can’t see any movement of the chest then listen for any breathing sounds, and see if you can feel any breath coming out of their mouth or nostrils.
This needs to be assessed very quickly as every second that goes by when someone is not breathing is critical.
If the person is not breathing then you need to commence CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation).
CPR involves placing your hands over the center of the critically injured person’s chest and commencing compressions.
With one hand on top of the other, the palm of your bottom hand should be placed two fingers width above the sternum.
Make sure the pressure is applied to the chest, not to the ribs. If the pressure is on the ribs they could break. If the pressure is placed too far down the person could aspirate and vomit and suffocate.
Once your hands are in the correct position, start compressing the chest.
Ensure your shoulders are directly above your hands and keep your arms straight so that your body is doing the pushing, and not your arms. Otherwise, your arms will get very tired.
Press down to a depth of 1-2 inches, and complete approximately 100-120 compressions per minute (nearly two per second).
After 30 breaths give two rescue breaths. Only give rescue breaths if you have been trained to do so. These breaths are given by tilting the head back, pinching the nose, forming a seal with your mouth, then breathing out.
You should see their chest rise and fall, with your breath.
While doing this, each breath of yours should take approximately one second.
There should not be a break between compressions of more than 10 seconds while doing the rescue breaths.
If an automated external defibrillator can be located this should be connected while someone continues with the compressions. You will know that the person has resumed breathing by the movement of the chest, breathing sounds, or feeling breathing out of their mouth or nostrils. Alternatively, if the person becomes conscious, this will clearly be an indicator that the CPR can stop.
Can you do Basic Life Support for infants?
Yes, Basic Life Support can be conducted on infants, but the technique needs to be adapted to ensure they are not injured.
What is the best way to learn basic life support?
Though basic life support concepts can be learned by watching videos and reading available information, the best way to learn basic life support is through an accredited training provider.
The Skills Training Group’s first aid course is a good example.
This will ensure you get the most up-to-date information and you will also have the opportunity to practice your technique and receive feedback from a training instructor as to whether you are interpreting the instructions correctly.
The CPR recommendations can change from time to time, regarding the appropriate ratio of breaths to compressions, so periodic training is a great way to keep both your skills and knowledge up to date.