Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR as it's often called, is an emergency procedure used to treat victims whose heart and breathing has stopped. (Cardio refers to the heart part, pulmonary to the breathing or lung side of things.) CPR can be done as a first aid technique by any individual trained in its delivery, or in a hospital with drugs and special equipment. In either case, it is essential that it be done as quickly as possible to avoid the brain damage or death that inevitably result after 4 to 6 minutes without oxygen.

The first aid procedure combines external heart massage, which keeps blood flowing through the body, with artificial respiration, which keeps air flowing in and out of the lungs. The victim must be placed face up and prepared for artificial respiration. The person administering CPR places his or her hands (one on top of the other, with fingers laced) with the heel of the hands on the victim's breastbone. The administrator then leans forward, and makes 15 quick, rhythmic compressions at a rate of 1 per second, pressing in about 2 in. (5 cm). This is followed by two breaths, administered using the mouth-to-mouth method of artificial respiration. CPR for infants and children differs in the ratio of compressions to breaths, and the compression of the chest is only 1 to 1.5 in. (2.5 to 3.8 cm). Ideally the procedure is done by two people, one to give mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration and one to apply external heart massage, and special training is recommended. In an emergency, though, no one is likely to be checking your credentials.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the hospital is an aggressive technique, as so many modern medical procedures are. It uses drugs and equipment to administer electric shocks to the heart in an attempt to restore the heartbeat. Many people believe it should not be used on patients whose prognosis is poor.