BLS Algorithm: A Step-by-Step Guide to Basic Life Support

Basic Life Support (BLS) is a critical set of techniques and procedures to save lives during emergencies where a person's breathing or heartbeat has stopped. BLS serves as the foundation of emergency medical response and is often the first line of care provided to individuals experiencing cardiac arrest, drowning, choking, or other life-threatening situations.

The BLS algorithm outlines the systematic approach that healthcare providers, first responders, and even laypersons follow to deliver effective life-saving interventions. The BLS algorithm consists of several key components and stages that collectively aim to restore circulation and oxygenation to the body:


  • Recognition: Rapid identification of a person in distress and determining the absence of normal breathing or responsiveness are crucial for initiating BLS procedures promptly.
  • Chest Compressions: Proper chest compressions involve pushing down firmly on the chest at the right depth and rate to manually circulate blood when the heart has stopped beating effectively.
  • Rescue Breaths: Rescue breaths involve providing artificial ventilation to the victim by delivering breaths into their lungs. 
  • Automated External Defibrillator Use: AEDs are integrated into the BLS algorithm and provide an essential intervention for individuals experiencing certain types of cardiac arrest.
  • Chain of Survival: The Chain of Survival is a concept that highlights a series of crucial steps aimed at increasing the chances of survival for someone experiencing a cardiac arrest.



Recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest or a life-threatening condition is the crucial first step in any BLS algorithm. Prompt recognition ensures that the chain of survival is set into motion. Common indicators include sudden loss of responsiveness, absence of normal breathing, and lack of a pulse.


Chest Compressions

Chest compressions form the cornerstone of BLS algorithms. When the heart stops beating, manual chest compressions become the external pump that maintains blood circulation. High-quality, uninterrupted chest compressions are vital for delivering oxygenated blood to the brain and other vital organs.

Proper chest compressions involve pushing down firmly on the chest at the right depth and rate to manually circulate blood when the heart has stopped beating effectively.


Rescue Breaths

In conjunction with chest compressions, rescue breaths provide essential oxygen to the lungs. Rescue breaths involve providing artificial ventilation to the victim by delivering breaths into their lungs. These breaths ensure that oxygen is supplied to the body and that carbon dioxide is expelled, even in cases where the victim is not breathing spontaneously. The rhythm of chest compressions and rescue breaths creates a dynamic cycle that enhances the chances of restoring spontaneous circulation.


Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Use

For cases of cardiac arrest caused by certain types of abnormal heart rhythms (ventricular fibrillation or pulseless ventricular tachycardia), an AED plays an important role. An AED is a portable device that can analyze a person's heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock, if necessary, to restore a normal rhythm. AEDs are integrated into the BLS algorithm and provide an essential intervention for individuals experiencing certain types of cardiac arrest. 


Chain of Survival

The Chain of Survival is a concept that highlights a series of crucial steps aimed at increasing the chances of survival for someone experiencing a cardiac arrest. This concept involves a sequence of actions that include early recognition, activation of emergency response, BLS interventions, advanced care, and post-resuscitation care. Each link in the chain complements the others and enhances the patient's chances of survival.


Integration of BLS in the Chain of Survival

The integration of BLS techniques within the chain of survival highlights their critical role in early intervention. Early recognition triggers the chain by activating emergency response systems, leading to the delivery of BLS interventions. These interventions buy time for the arrival of advanced medical care, such as from healthcare professionals or emergency medical services (EMS). The integration also extends to post-resuscitation care, ensuring that the patient receives the necessary medical attention and support for a better outcome.

Understanding the components and stages of a BLS algorithm goes beyond mere knowledge—it empowers individuals to respond confidently and effectively in emergencies. Proper execution of BLS techniques, combined with a thorough grasp of the chain of survival, increases the likelihood of positive outcomes and underscores the value of rapid, coordinated response in critical situations.

Importance of BLS Algorithm in Emergency Medical Response

BLS algorithms provide a systematic framework for effective life-saving actions by offering a structured and organized approach to responding in emergency situations where a person's life is at risk. These algorithms are carefully designed to ensure that responders, whether they are healthcare professionals, first aiders, or laypersons, can take appropriate and timely actions to maximize the chances of a positive outcome. The systematic nature of BLS algorithms helps ensure consistency, accuracy, and efficiency in delivering critical interventions.


How BLS Algorithm Works

BLS algorithms function as systematic guides to facilitate effective and efficient responses in life-threatening emergency situations. They outline a logical sequence of steps that responders can follow to provide essential interventions, such as chest compressions, rescue breaths, and defibrillation, when needed. Here's a comprehensive understanding of how BLS algorithms function and the logical sequence of steps they entail:

  1. Recognition: The algorithm begins with recognizing a medical emergency. This involves quickly assessing the situation to determine if someone is in distress and requires immediate help. If the victim is unresponsive and not breathing normally, the algorithm is initiated.
  2. Activate Emergency Response: After recognizing the emergency, the first step is to activate the emergency response system. This includes calling for professional medical assistance (calling 911 or the appropriate emergency number) and requesting any available help from bystanders.
  3. Check for Responsiveness: The next step involves attempting to elicit a response from the victim. This could be done by tapping the victim's shoulder and shouting loudly. If there is no response, it indicates that the victim is unresponsive and requires immediate intervention.
  4. Open Airway: Once unresponsiveness is confirmed, the responder should open the victim's airway. This is typically achieved by tilting the victim's head back and lifting their chin. This helps ensure that the airway is clear and ready for ventilation.
  5. Check for Breathing: With the airway open, the responder should check for normal breathing. This is done by observing the victim's chest for rise and fall, listening for breath sounds, and feeling for air movement.
  6. Start Chest Compressions: If the victim is not breathing or not breathing normally, chest compressions are initiated. High-quality chest compressions are essential to maintain blood circulation to vital organs. The responder should position the heel of one hand on the center of the victim's chest and the other hand on top, interlocking fingers. Compressions are performed at a rate of around 100-120 compressions per minute, with a depth of about 2 inches (5 centimeters) for adults.
  7. Deliver Rescue Breaths: After 30 compressions, the responder delivers two rescue breaths. The responder should pinch the victim's nose shut and cover the victim's mouth with their own while delivering a breath. For infants, the mouth and nose should be covered during rescue breaths.
  8. Continue Compressions and Breaths: The cycle of 30 compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths is repeated. This ensures that oxygenated blood is circulated to the body's tissues and organs.
  9. Use of Automated External Defibrillator (AED): If an AED is available, it should be used as soon as possible. The AED analyzes the victim's heart rhythm and provides instructions for shock delivery if necessary. The responder should follow the AED's voice prompts and ensure the victim's body is dry before delivering the shock.
  10. Continue Until Professional Help Arrives: The responder continues performing chest compressions, rescue breaths, and using the AED until professional medical help arrives on the scene. Paramedics and healthcare providers can take over from this point to provide advanced care.


The logical sequence of steps in the BLS algorithm ensures that responders focus on critical interventions that help maintain oxygenation and circulation in the victim's body. The algorithm is designed to be easy to follow and adaptable to different scenarios, ensuring that even individuals without extensive medical training can provide life-saving assistance effectively.


Different BLS Algorithms Based on Scenarios

Basic Life Support (BLS) algorithms are tailored to address the unique physiological characteristics and needs of different age groups—adults, pediatric patients, and infants. Adapting your response based on the scenario is crucial for optimizing patient outcomes.


Adult BLS Algorithm

The adult BLS algorithm is designed to address cardiac arrest in individuals aged 18 and above. Its stages include recognition, chest compressions, rescue breaths, AED use, and professional medical help. One key consideration is the depth and rate of chest compressions, tailored to adult chest anatomy and size. Ensuring a compression depth of around 2 inches and a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute is essential for maintaining blood circulation and oxygen delivery.


Pediatric BLS Algorithm

When responding to pediatric patients (ages 1 to puberty), the BLS algorithm takes into account the unique characteristics of children. Chest compressions are shallower and faster, at a depth of about 2 inches and a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. Rescue breaths are provided with careful consideration of the child's lung capacity. It's important to note that if two rescuers are present, they often switch roles to minimize fatigue.


Infant BLS Algorithm

For infants (under 1 year old), the BLS algorithm emphasizes gentle care due to their delicate anatomy. Chest compressions are delivered with two fingers, and the depth is about 1.5 inches. The rate remains at 100-120 compressions per minute. The technique for delivering rescue breaths involves covering both the infant's nose and mouth, creating a secure seal. The compression to breath ratio for infant is 15:2 if there are 2 rescuers available.


Limitations and Adaptations of BLS Algorithms

While BLS algorithms are invaluable in guiding life-saving interventions, it's important to recognize that they have limitations and might require adaptations in certain scenarios. Understanding these limitations and being prepared to adapt is crucial for effective emergency response.

  • Uncommon Situations: BLS algorithms are primarily designed for common cardiac arrest scenarios. In rare cases involving unique medical conditions or injuries, strict adherence to the algorithm might not be the best approach. Adaptations might be necessary to address specific circumstances.
  • Special Populations: Patients with certain medical conditions, disabilities, or vulnerabilities might require modified interventions. For example, individuals with physical limitations might need alternative techniques for chest compressions and rescue breaths.
  • Vomiting and Aspiration Risk: During chest compressions, there's a risk of gastric regurgitation and vomiting. While BLS algorithms prioritize maintaining compressions, responders should be prepared to manage the risk of aspiration and adjust interventions if necessary.
  • Limited Effectiveness in Some Cases: BLS algorithms might not be effective in cases where the underlying cause of cardiac arrest is not responsive to chest compressions and defibrillation. This highlights the importance of early access to advanced medical care.
  • Suboptimal Ventilation: In some instances, the quality of ventilation provided during rescue breaths might be suboptimal due to various factors. Responders should be ready to adjust their technique like ambu bag use to ensure adequate oxygenation.
  • Remote or Resource-Limited Settings: In situations where access to medical equipment or advanced medical care is limited, responders might need to adapt their approach and focus on delivering effective chest compressions and rescue breaths.
  • Non-Cardiac Causes: BLS algorithms are primarily designed for cardiac arrest cases. In scenarios where the arrest is due to non-cardiac causes (e.g., severe trauma, drowning), adaptations might be needed to address the underlying condition.


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