CPR is an important, life-saving skill that anyone can learn, but our understanding of how and why it works continues to evolve. As such, official recommendations for effective CPR — the most recent being the AHA 2020 guidelines — are updated every few years as research uncovers better techniques for training rescuers and administering aid.
Over the past decade, CPR guidelines have been updated several times to prioritize high-quality chest compressions and encourage more bystanders to administer CPR in an emergency.
Read on to learn more about the AHA 2020 guidelines for performing CPR and how those updates affect your CPR certification.
Where Do Updated CPR Guidelines Come From?
A common misconception is that the American Heart Association (AHA) sets CPR training requirements, but the process of setting new and updated CPR guidelines is actually a little more complex than that.
The AHA serves as the American liaison to the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR), whose purpose is “to provide a forum for liaison between principal resuscitation organisations worldwide.”
Together, the members of ILCOR conduct research and make recommendations for the best way to perform CPR. Then the AHA reports those recommendations to U.S. organizations so each can create their own training methods and materials accordingly.
While many accreditation organizations and state departments expect training providers to adhere to AHA standards for CPR guidelines, the AHA themselves only make recommendations and cannot approve other organizations or businesses to provide CPR training.
What Updates Have Been Made in the Past 10 Years?
CPR saves lives, and ensuring that the guidelines are up-to-date is crucial to increase the chances of survival. Every five years, ILCOR and the AHA update their recommended CPR guidelines to reflect emerging research about the safest and most effective ways to perform CPR.
One of the most significant changes reflected in the AHA 2020 guidelines from research throughout the past decade is a greater emphasis on delivering high-quality chest compressions than on rescue breaths. These changes help reduce barriers that may prevent bystanders from confidently and effectively administering life-saving aid.
AHA 2010 Guidelines
As of 2010, AHA CPR guidelines included the following updates:
- Basic life support sequence: The most significant change to AHA guidelines in 2010 recommended rescuers administer aid in the sequence of chest compressions, airway, breathing (“C-A-B”) instead of airway, breathing, chest compressions (“A-B-C”). This reduces the time spent before the critical first chest compressions can begin.
- Hands-only CPR: Untrained rescuers were encouraged to perform hands-only CPR, also known as compression-only CPR, without rescue breathing. This makes it easier and less intimidating for untrained lay people to administer life-saving aid.
- Effective chest compressions: When administering chest compressions, rescuers were advised to deliver at least 100 compressions per minute and to compress the chest at least 2 inches. This helps ensure rescuers administer chest compressions properly.
In addition to these and other updates, the 2010 guidelines also affirmed previous recommendations, including minimizing unnecessary interruptions to chest compressions and training to recognize the signs of sudden cardiac arrest.
AHA 2015 Guidelines
Many of the AHA’s 2015 guidelines affirmed the 2010 updates, including the “C-A-B” sequence for basic life support and the recommendation that untrained rescuers administer hands-only CPR until the arrival of trained emergency responders. However, some of the 2015 guidelines further refined recommendations made in 2010.
Following reports of too many shallow chest compressions, the recommended compression rate was limited to 100-120 compressions per minute. Likewise, the recommended compression depth was limited to 2-2.4 inches to prevent harm caused by excessive force.
AHA 2020 Guidelines
The most recent AHA updates are the 2020 guidelines. Once again, these guidelines reaffirm many of the previous recommendations, including the effectiveness of CPR in general and high-quality chest compressions specifically. The limits of 2-2.4 inches for chest compressions at 100-120 compressions per minute still apply.
Updates from the AHA 2020 guidelines include:
- Quick response: Lay rescuers should be encouraged to perform CPR immediately if cardiac arrest is presumed. While many people hesitate, afraid of causing harm if the person is not actually suffering cardiac arrest, failing to administer chest compressions poses a much greater threat.
- Support for cardiac arrest survivors and rescuers: In addition to medical assessment and treatment for survivors of cardiac arrest, the 2020 updates recommend support and treatment options for the mental and emotional health of both survivors and their caregivers.
- Education: The AHA 2020 guidelines include numerous education and training recommendations, including self-directed training when no teacher-led training is available and the use of virtual reality and gamified learning.
- Technology use: While the use of smartphone technology to alert bystanders of nearby individuals in need of CPR has yet to be studied in the U.S., it is now considered a reasonable option and recommended for further study.
Since far too many people who suffer cardiac arrest still fail to receive life-saving aid from bystanders, the most recent updates also emphasize a need for more widely available training targeted at increasing bystanders’ willingness to perform CPR when needed.
Who Should Abide by the AHA 2020 Guidelines?
You might think only healthcare professionals need to keep up with CPR updates and guidelines. But the truth is that anyone could find themself in a situation where CPR is necessary. In such situations, the knowledge and willingness to administer aid before paramedics arrive can mean the difference between the person living or dying.
That’s why the 2020 AHA guidelines place so much emphasis on removing barriers and equipping even untrained bystanders to administer aid. Anyone can save a life, but many people hesitate out of fear or lack of knowledge.
Ultimately, however, it’s everyone’s responsibility to stay informed and be prepared to act quickly in an emergency. Understanding and following the AHA 2020 guidelines for CPR ensures you are equipped with the latest techniques and information that could potentially save someone’s life.
How Do CPR Updates Affect Your CPR Certification?
Since the guidelines are updated every five years, what happens to CPR certifications that are current at the time the AHA publishes updates? Does your “out-of-date” CPR card automatically become invalid?
The short answer is no. Typically, CPR certifications must be renewed every two years, and the validity of your certification doesn’t change just because the AHA has released new recommendations.
However, if you have a CPR certification, you’ll want to stay on top of the latest updates so you can continue administering aid as effectively as possible. And if you’re planning on becoming certified, you’ll need to ensure the training program you use incorporates the AHA 2020 guidelines and/or the most recent updates.
That said, even if your CPR certification is expired, you’re still qualified to perform CPR if an emergency occurs before you can take a renewal course. As long as you’re willing and physically able to do so, you can absolutely administer CPR — with or without an active certification.
If you aren’t CPR-certified yet, consider getting certified as soon as you can. Then you can be confident that you’re prepared to provide life-saving aid if and when the need arises.
Staying Up-to-Date Saves Lives
Over the past ten years, guidelines for effectively administering CPR have changed, especially with respect to the importance of immediate, high-quality chest compressions and equipping lay bystanders with the knowledge and skills to step in before emergency responders arrive on the scene.
The 2020 AHA guidelines — and future updates to CPR best practices — are important not only for healthcare professionals, but also for anyone who may need to perform CPR in an emergency. By staying up-to-date on AHA recommendations, we can all work towards increasing survival rates and providing the best possible care for those in need.
Need to get your staff CPR-certified? Contact us today to learn more about how ProTrainings can help make the training, certification, and renewal process easier and more efficient.