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5 Common Side Effects of CPR That Everyone Should Know

Five Possible CPR Side Effects, You Should Know


March 17, 2022

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Many people have seen the signs and heard the slogan: “CPR Can Save Lives” CPR or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation is an emergency treatment used to restart a person’s heart and breathing (cardiac emergencies). But just how effective is CPR? What are the CPR side effects? And, if someone is lucky enough to survive a cardiopulmonary emergency, what does that mean for that person’s long-term health?

Let’s look at some numbers. According to the most recent statistics provided by the American Heart Association, 88% of cardiac arrests happen at home (out of hospital cardiac arrest), where there are no doctors or nurses, which is why it is so vitally important that everyone be skilled in providing CPR. The rescuer must continue the CPR until the victim has a return of spontaneous circulation or ROSC. The average bystander skilled in CPR can triple a victim’s chance of surviving a cardiopulmonary emergency. However, the chances of receiving CPR from a non-professional in an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest situation is only approximately 32%.

Furthermore, of those victims that receive CPR outside of a hospital, less than 8% survive. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 15% of patients are resuscitated and survive discharge in a hospital setting. A number that has remained relatively stable over the past three decades.

So, a 15% chance of survival is not bad. But what really happens during CPR? Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a harsh medical intervention with multiple CPR side effects from receiving it. There are also mechanical chest compression devices that are as effective as properly executed manual compressions and can minimize the effects of performance error and fatigue.

What are the risks associated with CPR?

Movie scenes influence many people’s idea of CPR, where successful resuscitation always happens, and people recover swiftly. But, in reality, this isn’t consistently the case. If the heart isn’t beating properly, the brain may not supply enough blood. Also, some brain damage may still occur even if the CPR successfully gets the heart beating again.

On the other hand, if CPR is given and it’s successful, the victim’s recovery will depend on several things, such as what caused it and how healthy they were when the cardiac arrest happened. After successful resuscitation, some people will fully recover, but some will still be very unwell and need more treatment. There are also cases where some patients will never get back to their health level before the arrest. In addition, if you have a long-term or chronic condition or a terminal illness, CPR is much less likely to work. 

cpr side effects

Common CPR Side Effects 

The methods used in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation can have adverse effects such as the following:

1. Aspiration & Vomiting

The most frequent occurrence during CPR is vomiting. It can present a danger to the cardiac arrest victim. Since the cardiac arrest victim is unconscious, he cannot clear the vomit from his mouth. If not cleared, the victim is likely to aspirate (inhale) it into his lungs, blocking the airway and leading to possible infection.

2. Broken Ribs Bone

A rib fracture is the most common complication of CPR because the force of chest compressions is likely to break ribs. Other skeletal chest injury related to chest compressions are sternal fracture and other uncommon complications like lung contusion, pneumothorax, and haemothorax. In the elderly, this is significantly more common due to the brittleness and weakness of their bones. Broken ribs present danger because a broken rib could puncture or lacerate (cut) a lung, the spleen, or the liver. They are also very painful. The frequency of rib fractures associated with out of hospital setting CPR is underestimated by conventional chest x-ray.

3. Internal Brain Injuries

Since CPR leaves the brain receiving 5% less oxygen than average, brain damage is possible. Brain damage occurs within 4 to 6 minutes from when the brain is deprived of oxygen, and after 10 minutes, it definitely happens. This can lead to long-term health complications.

4. Abdominal Distension

Another common CPR side effects is Abdominal Distension. As a result of air being forced into the lungs, the abdomen of the cardiac arrest patient usually becomes distended (bloated) and full of air during CPR, leading to compression of the lungs (making ventilation more difficult) and an increased chance of vomiting.

5. Aspiration Pneumonia

The result of vomit and foreign objects (like a person’s own teeth) being inhaled into the lungs can lead to aspiration pneumonia. This CPR side effects can be very dangerous to a cardiac arrest patient’s health and could complicate recovery or even be fatal, even if the cardiac arrest victim does survive CPR.

Overall, all of these side effects mean that if a person survives CPR, their long-term health could suffer and be alive. But their overall health and quality of life may be significantly affected. Additionally, the psychological ramifications of a near-death experience can substantially affect a survivor, leading to anxiety, stress, and depression, among other psychological conditions.

Thus, it is crucial to know the side effects of CPR before performing it on anyone. Hence, proper CPR training is always recommended for everyone to respond to emergency medical situations properly.

cpr side effects

Frequently Asked Questions

Do people recover after CPR?

Many patients survive CPR, but they don’t return to their physical or mental health before CPR. Some of them may need a lot of rehabilitation. There are other cases where some patients go into a coma from which they might not recover or might suffer from brain damage.

How long does the brain stay alive after the heart stops?

The brain can survive for up to about six minutes after cardiac arrest. If CPR is performed within six minutes, the brain may survive the lack of oxygen. After about six minutes without CPR, the brain begins to die.

What is the survival rate after CPR?

In a review of studies of CPR outcomes, it was reported that an average of 15% of patients experiencing arrest survive until hospital discharge (range, 3%-27%). Furthermore, this long-term success rate has remained stable for 30 years.

How long does a sternum fractures take to heal?

Most sternal fractures heal on their own without splinting or any other treatment. However, complete recovery usually takes 8 to 12 weeks.


CPR can truly be a lifesaving measure even though there might be complications or CPR side effects. Performing CPR successfully to restart breathing does not improve the patient’s basic health condition. Remember that CPR is often the first step down a long road. Once the patient starts breathing again, there can be complications, CPR side effects, and other choices that need to be considered.

Recovery after CPR is not easy and it is possible that their overall health and quality of life is significantly affected. Additionally, the psychological ramifications of a near-death experience can greatly affect a survivor, leading to anxiety, stress and depression, among other psychological conditions. Thus, it is important to have knowledge of the CPR side effects before performing it to anyone. Hence, a proper CPR training classes is always recommended for everyone.

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