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Basic life support

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For techniques and equipment for keeping a patient alive longer term, see life support.

Basic life support (BLS) is a level of medical care which is used for patients with life-
threatening illness or injury until the patient can be given full medical care. It can be
provided by trained medical personnel, including emergency medical technicians, and by
laypersons who have received BLS training. BLS is generally used in the pre-hospital
setting, and can be provided without medical equipment.

Many countries have guidelines on how to provide basic life support (BLS) which are
formulated by professional medical bodies in those countries. The guidelines outline
algorithms for the management of a number of conditions, such as Cardiac arrest,
choking and drowning.

BLS generally does not include the use of drugs or invasive skills, and can be contrasted
with the provision of Advanced Life Support (ALS). Most laypersons can master BLS
skills after attending a short course. Firefighters and police officers are often required to
be BLS certified. BLS is also immensely useful for many other professions, such as
daycare providers, teachers and security personnel.

CPR provided in the field buys time for higher medical responders to arrive and provide
ALS care. For this reason it is essential that any person starting CPR also obtains ALS
support by calling for help via radio using agency policies and procedures and/or using an
appropriate emergency telephone number.

An important advance in providing BLS is the availability of the automated external

defibrillator or AED, which can be used to defibrillation or delivery. This improves
survival outcomes in cardiac arrest cases.

Basic life support consists of a number of life-saving techniques focused on the medicine
"ABC"s of pre-hospital emergency care:

• Airway: the protection and maintenance of a clear passageway for gases

(principally oxygen and carbon dioxide) to pass between the lungs and the outside
of the body
• Breathing: inflation and deflation of the lungs (respiration) via the airway
• Circulation: providing an adequate blood supply to the body, especially critical
organs, so as to deliver oxygen to all cells and remove carbon dioxide, via the
perfusion of blood throughout the body.
Healthy people maintain the ABCs by themselves. In an emergency situation, due to
illness (medical condition) or trauma, BLS helps the patient ensure his or her own ABCs,
or assists in maintaining for the patient who is unable to do so. For airways, this will
include maintaining optimal angles or possible insertion of oral or nasal adjuncts, to keep
the airway unblocked. For breathing, this may include artificial respiration, often assisted
by emergency oxygen. For circulation, this may include bleeding control or
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) techniques to manually stimulate the heart and
assist its pumping action. In each case, the BLS provider is trained to detect ABC
problems and attempt to correct them.

BLS also typically includes considerations of patient transport such as various forms
immobilization to prevent additional injury, including cervical collars, splinting limbs,
and full body splints (backboards).


• 1 BLS in the United States

o 1.1 Adult BLS sequence
o 1.2 Drowning
o 1.3 Hypothermia
o 1.4 Foreign body airway obstruction (choking)
• 2 BLS in the United Kingdom
o 2.1 Adult BLS sequence
o 2.2 Adult choking sequence
• 3 In other countries
• 4 See also

• 5 References

[edit] BLS in the United States

BLS in the United States is generally identified with Emergency Medical Technicians-
Basic (EMT-B). However, the American Heart Association's BLS protocol is designed
for use by laypeople, first responders, EMT-B, and to some extent, higher medical
functions. It covers cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, drowning, and foreign body airway
obstruction (FBAO, or choking). EMT-B is the highest level of healthcare provider that is
limited to the BLS protocol; higher medical functions use some or all of the Advanced
Life Support (ALS) protocols, in addition to BLS protocols.

The algorithm for providing basic life support to adults in the USA was published in
2005 in the journal Circulation by the American Heart Association (AHA).[1][2]
The AHA uses four-link "Chain of Survival" to illustrate the steps needed to resuscitate a
collapsed victim:

• Early recognition of the emergency and activation of emergency medical services

• Early bystander CPR, so as not to delay treatment until arrival of EMS

• Early use of a defibrillator

• Early advanced life support and post-resuscitation care

Bystanders with training in BLS can perform the first 3 of the 4 steps.

[edit] Adult BLS sequence

• Ensure that the scene is safe.

• Assess the victim's level of consciousness by asking loudly "are you okay?" and
by checking for the victim's responsiveness to pain.

• Activate the local EMS system by instructing someone to call 911. If an AED is
available, it should be retrieved and prepared.

• If the victim has no suspected cervical spine trauma, open the airway using the
head-tilt/chin-lift maneuver; if the victim has suspected trauma, the airway should
be opened with the jaw-thrust technique. If the jaw-thrust is ineffective at
opening/maintaining the airway, a very careful head-tilt/chin-lift should be

• Assess the airway for foreign object obstructions, and if any are visible, remove
them using the finger-sweep technique. Blind finger-sweeps should not be
performed, as they may push foreign objects deeper into the airway.

• Look, listen, and feel for breathing for at least 5 seconds and no more than 15

• If the patient is breathing normally, then the patient should be placed in the
recovery position and monitored and transported; do not continue the BLS

• If patient is not breathing normally, and the arrest was witnessed immediately
before assessment, then immediate defibrillation is the treatment of choice[1].

• Attempt to administer two artificial ventilations using the mouth-to-mouth

technique, the mouth-to-mask technique, or a bag-valve-mask. Verify that the
chest rises and falls; if it does not, reposition (i.e. re-open) the airway using the
appropriate technique and try again. If ventilation is still unsuccessful, and the
victim is unconscious, it is possible that they have a foreign body in their airway.
Begin chest compressions, stopping every 30 compressions, re-checking the
airway for obstructions, removing any found, and re-attempting ventilation.

• If the ventilations are successful, assess for the presence of a pulse at the carotid
artery. If a pulse is detected, then the patient should continue to receive artificial
ventilations at an appropriate rate and transported immediately. Otherwise, begin
CPR at a ratio of 30:2 compressions to ventilations at 100 compressions/minute
for 5 cycles.

• After 5 cycles of CPR, the BLS protocol should be repeated from the beginning,
assessing the patient's airway, checking for spontaneous breathing, and checking
for a spontaneous pulse. Laypersons are commonly instructed not to perform re-
assessment, but this step is always performed by healthcare professionals (HCPs).
If an AED is available after 5 cycles of CPR, it should be attached, activated, and
(if indicated) defibrillation should be performed. If defibrillation is performed, 5
more cycles of CPR should be immediately repeated before re-assessment.

• BLS protocols continue until (1) the patient regains a pulse, (2) the rescuer is
relieved by another rescuer of equivalent or higher training, (3) the rescuer is too
physically tired to continue CPR, or (4) the patient is pronounced dead by a
medical doctor.[1]

• At the end of five cycles of CPR, always perform defibrillation (AED), and repeat
assessment before doing another five cycles.

• CPR continues indefinitely, until the patient is revived, or until the caregiver is
relieved, or discharged by a higher medical authority

• The CPR cycle is often abbreviated as 30:2 (30 compressions, 2 ventilations or

breaths). Note CPR for infants and children uses a 15:2 cycle when two rescuers
are performing CPR (but still uses a 30:2 if there is only one rescuer)

[edit] Drowning

• Rescuers should provide CPR as soon as an unresponsive victim is removed from

the water. In particular, rescue breathing is important in this situation.

• A lone rescuer should give 3 cycles of CPR before leaving the victim to call
emergency medical services. A cycle of CPR consists of giving 30 chest
compressions and 2 breaths to the victim.

Since the primary cause of cardiac arrest and death in drowning and choking victims is
hypoxia, it is more important to provide rescue breathing as quickly as possible in these
situations, whereas for victims of VF cardiac arrest chest compressions and defibrillation
are more important.

[edit] Hypothermia

• In unresponsive victims with hypothermia, the breathing and pulse should be

checked for 30 to 45 seconds as both breathing and heart rate can be very slow in
this condition.

• If cardiac arrest is confirmed, CPR should be started immediately. Wet clothes

should be removed, and the victim should be insulated from wind. CPR should be
continued until the victim is assessed by advanced care providers.

[edit] Foreign body airway obstruction (choking)

• Rescuers should intervene in victims who show signs of severe airway

obstruction, such as a silent cough, cyanosis, or inability to speak or breathe.

• If a victim is coughing forcefully, rescuers should not interfere with this process.

• If a victim shows signs of severe airway obstruction, abdominal thrusts should be

applied in rapid sequence until the obstruction is relieved. If this is not effective,
chest thrusts can also be used. Chest thrusts can also be used in obese victims or
victims in late pregnancy. Abdominal thrusts should not be used in infants under 1
year of age due to risk of causing injury.

• If a victim becomes unresponsive he should be lowered to the ground, and the

rescuer should call emergency medical services and initiate CPR. When the
airway is opened during CPR, the rescuer should look into the mouth for an object
causing obstruction, and remove it if it is evident.

[edit] BLS in the United Kingdom

Adult BLS guidelines in the United Kingdom were also published in 2005 by the
Resuscitation Council (UK), [3] based on the 2005 International Consensus on
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Science with
Treatment Recommendations (CoSTR) published in November 2005.[4]

[edit] Adult BLS sequence

• Ensure the safety of the victim, the rescuer, and any bystanders.

• Check the victim for a response by gently shaking the victim's shoulders and
asking loudly "Are you all right?"
• If the victim responds, leave him in the position in which he was found provided
there is no further danger, try to find out what is wrong with him and get help if
needed, and reassess him regularly.

• If the victim does not respond, turn him on to his back and open the airway using
the head tilt and chin lift. Shout for help.

• Look, listen and feel for normal breathing for no more than 10 seconds. If the
victim is breathing normally, turn him into the recovery position and get help.
Continue to check for breathing.

• If the victim is not breathing normally, call for an ambulance, then give 30 chest
compressions at a rate of 100 per minute.

• After 30 chest compressions, give 2 rescue breaths, and continue to alternate

between 30 chest compressions and 2 breaths.

• Continue resuscitation until qualified help arrives, the victim starts breathing
normally, or you become exhausted.

These guidelines differ from previous versions in a number of ways:

• They allow the rescuer to diagnose cardiac arrest if the victim is unresponsive and
not breathing normally.

• Rescuers are taught to give chest compressions in the centre of the chest, rather
than measuring from the lower border of the sternum.

• Rescue breaths should be given over 1 second rather than 2 seconds.

• Rescuers should use the ratio of 30:2 for compressions to breaths, rather than the
previous 15:2 or 5:1 ratios.

• For an adult victim, the initial 2 rescue breaths should be omitted, so that 30 chest
compressions are given immediately after a cardiac arrest has been diagnosed.

These changes were introduced to simplify the algorithm, to allow for faster decision
making and to maximise the time spent giving chest compressions; this is because
interruptions in chest compressions have been shown to reduce the chance of survival.[5]
It is also acknowledged that rescuers may either be unable, or unwilling, to give effective
rescue breaths; in this situation, continuing chest compressions alone is advised, although
this is only effective for about 5 minutes.[6]

[edit] Adult choking sequence

• Assess the severity of airway obstruction. If the victim is able to speak and cough
effectively, the obstruction is mild. If the victim is unable to speak or cough
effectively, or is unable to breathe or is breathing with a wheezy sound, the
airway obstruction is severe.

• If the victim has signs of mild airway obstruction, encourage him to continue
coughing; do nothing else.

• If the victim has signs of severe airway obstruction, and is conscious, give up to 5
back blows (sharp blows between the shoulder blades with the victim leaning well
forwards). Check to see if the obstruction has cleared after each blow. If 5 back
blows fail to relieve the obstruction, give up to 5 abdominal thrusts, again
checking if each attempt has relieved the obstruction.

• If the obstruction is still present, and the victim still conscious, continue
alternating 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts.

• If the victim becomes unconscious, lower him to the ground, call an ambulance,
and begin CPR.

[edit] In other countries

The term BLS is also used in some non-English speaking countries (e.g. in Italy[7]) for the
education of first responders.

• Spain: SVB (soporte vital básico)

• Belgium: aide médicale urgente ("emergency medical assistance")/ EHBO (eerste
hulp bij ongelukken, "first aid")
• France: PSE 2 (premiers secours en équipe 2e niveau, "team first aid 2nd level) =
former CFAPSE (before 2007)(certificat de formation aux activités des premiers
secours en équipe, "education certificate for the team first aid activity")
• Poland: Podstawowe zabiegi resuscytacyjne
• Germany: Lebensrettende Sofortmaßnahmen (basic life support)
• Romania: SVB (support vital de bază)
• Netherlands: EHBO (eerste hulp bij ongelukken, "first aid")
• Turkey: TYD (temel yaşam desteği, "basic life support")

[edit] See also

• Advanced life support
• Emergency medical technician
• Artificial respiration
• Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
• Advanced cardiac life support
[edit] References
1. ^ a b c "Circulation".
2. ^ Circulation. 2005;112:IV-19-IV-34 2005 American Heart Association
Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular
3. ^ Resuscitation Council (UK) Adult Basic Life Support (2005)
4. ^ European Resuscitation Council guidelines and CoSTR documents
5. ^ Eftestol T, Sunde K, Steen PA. Effects of interrupting precordial compressions
on the calculated probability of defibrillation success during out-of-hospital
cardiac arrest. Circulation 2002;105:2270-3
6. ^ Hallstrom A, Cobb L, Johnson E, Copass M. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation by
chest compression alone or with mouth-to-mouth ventilation. N Engl J Med
7. ^ Nozioni primo soccorso BLS (Italian), PDF document (12p, 912 Kb)

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• This page was last modified on 29 April 2010 at 22:42.

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