Hold the CPR: What actually happens when we die?

Rethinking CPR: New research is questioning if CPR does more harm than good. The thinking is that a sudden surge of oxygen into the body kills cells faster than a gradual return to normal conditions.
Rethinking CPR: New research is questioning if CPR does more harm than good. The thinking is that a sudden surge of oxygen into the body kills cells faster than a gradual return to normal conditions.
The conventional wisdom has been that when someone has a heart attack or other catastrophic health problem, the quick revival of blood flow and breathing will return them to life.

Now, new research is questioning that conventional wisdom, and is even wondering if the process of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) could actually be leading to a quicker death. Hold on to your hat and read on.

The old thinking was that cells of the body would begin to die within four or five minutes of the stoppage of oxygen and nutrients coming to them through blood. The quicker a heart can be restarted and breathing can begin, the better the chances were for a body to go on living.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have been studying heart cells under microscopes. What they’ve found throws all that stuff up into the air. What they found was that cells cut off from their lifeline of blood died hours later, not minutes.

Now here’s the real freaky part. The researchers think that the cells die faster when their oxygen supply is quickly returned.

So the quick surge of oxygen and energy into the body may be just the wrong thing do to someone whose breathing and blood flow have stopped. These researchers are thinking that hypothermia – extreme cold temperatures bringing the body’s core temperature to 33 degrees C – might be a better option. Then medical professionals would have time to adjust the blood chemistry for a safe, gradual return of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, keeping them alive.

University of California researchers have tried a slightly different approach of treatment at four hospitals. Cardiac patients received a blood infusion that would keep their hearts in a state of suspended animation. They were on a heart-lung device to maintain blood flow to the brain until the heart could be slowly restarted. The tests were conducted in just 34 patients, but 80 percent were discharged from a hospital okay. Under the old methods, the survival rate is 15 percent.

A lot more research has to be done, but the findings do shake up what we’ve traditionally thought about how to keep people living. Share your thoughts on this topic with other Science Buzz readers here.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Wow. That's kind of weird to think about. Are you sure this is done with reliable sources?

posted on Mon, 05/21/2007 - 8:01pm
MuddyGeek's picture
MuddyGeek says:

We know just what CPR is already. However, I've heard before that the innovations in CPR will ultimately change it into something barely recognizable by our present standards.

I've heard of research into using chilled saline to also slow the body. The Journal of Emergency Medical Science reported initially on a paramedic that had accidentally chilled saline (I believe simply due to environment, ie being winter) yet still used it in a patient. The patient actually survived.

posted on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 2:39am
hunter roge's picture
hunter roge says:

Huh that's interesting. I suppose it's possible give how little we actulay know about our bodies but until proven I think I'll use my still use my CPR knowledge to try and save somebody.

posted on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 9:43am
Sorany ka's picture
Sorany ka says:

It CAN do more harm but what is a broken rib cage compared to saving someones life?

posted on Wed, 11/19/2008 - 9:49am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Not all "cells" are the same. The point of CPR is to circulate oxygenated blood to the brain, as it is the neurons that die quickly when deprived of oxygen. The "old way of thinking" is still correct -- you can revive a body quite some time after the heart is asystole, but if the brain has died then it is game over... and that happens in a matter of minutes.

posted on Wed, 02/04/2009 - 6:07am
Alexa Molyneux's picture
Alexa Molyneux says:

it is really amazing what you can learn when you read a few paragrapghs about a subject

posted on Sun, 10/04/2009 - 11:57am

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