Medical Resuscitation: the unnecessary distress due to misconception

CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a medical procedure that is often misunderstood. It causes lot of anguish and distress to patients and family unnecessarily.

It is sometimes colloquially known as “kiss of life” as “mouth to mouth resuscitation” was previously used in pre-COVID era along with “chest compressions”.

CPR may involve “electric shocks to heart” when needed if machines are available. CPR in hospital may involve “tubes pushed down the throat” to enable air get into lungs. CPR almost always involves someone “pressing hard on the chest repeatedly with both hands” so as to help air get into lungs.

Overall, it can appear a bit brutal but it can be a life saver. That’s why the work places, train stations, airports and some public parks have the automatic defibrillators.

CPR is a wonderful medical first aid, which, delivered promptly, can save lives. It is highly successful in previously fit people with a sudden cardio respiratory arrest due to a “reversible or treatable” illness.

Television serials and Hollywood movies often portray CPR as a highly successful procedure.

But, unfortunately, in routine hospital practice, the success rates are low.

In particular, success rates are very low in “terminally ill” cancer patients and in frail patients with “multiple irreversible medical conditions”.

Because many people believe CPR is hugely successful in “everyone”, patients and families understandably get very upset when the medical team talk about “do not attempt resuscitation (DNAR)“.

When CPR is NOT used appropriately, it prevents peaceful death and stops terminally ill patients from gently fading away surrounded by their loved ones.

In cancer patients, when cancer treatments are not working, death occurs after the body has been overwhelmed by cancer. Trying to re-start the heart and lungs after the organs have stopped working due to cancer is often futile. More importantly, CPR can make death more traumatic for patients and family.

Other than educating people about benefits and limitations of CPR, there is no easy way to make this misconception about resuscitation go away.

Read my BMJ letter on this topic and contribute your views on the rapid response section of BMJ.

BMJ. Misconceptions about CPR distress patients at the end of life and bereaved people.

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Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is NOT a expert medical opinion on various topics. This blog is purely for information only and do check the the sources where cited. Please DO consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you. The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and may change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any organisation the author is associated with. The views expressed in this blog are not in way intended to be a substitute for professional advice.