CPR isn't as safe as you may think and that's because TV gets survival rates wrong


You’re glued to the TV, watching your favourite show … there’s a heart-pounding moment where a beloved character needs CPR, and then they’re totally fine! But this is TV. It’s not real life.

Real survival rates for CPR are much lower than what’s shown on TV. For instance, one 2018 study included 18,000 hospitalized CPR cases. Overall, only 28.5% of the adults survived to eventually leave the hospital. Now compare that to TV medical dramas. A team of researchers sat down and watched 91 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and House. And discovered that about 70% of people who received CPR survived. That’s over double the survival rate compared to reality.

And sure, Hollywood is allowed to bend the truth for the sake of suspense. But in this case, this misinformation can be dangerous. Many doctors actually opt out of CPR for themselves. There are even cases of doctors tattooing their chests to make extra sure they don’t receive CPR. And it may sound paranoid but doctors know that even if you beat the odds and survive CPR, your quality of life might never be the same.

That’s because of how CPR actually works. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. When the heart stops, breathing air into the person’s lungs and pushing down on their chest, helps keep oxygen flowing to the brain. And may restart their heart. But what they usually don’t show on TV dramas, is that CPR can:

  • Fracture the breastbone
  • Crack ribs
  • And bruise the lungs

These types of injuries are common because, your heart is inside your rib cage, and surrounded by other organs. So, in order to make an impact on it, you have to compress the chest by about 5 cm. Our ribs aren’t designed to withstand that kind of force. On top of that, brain cells start dying 6 minutes after the heart stops.

So people who don’t receive CPR right away, are at risk of permanent brain damage. For example, one study in China found that about a third of CPR survivors had some level of brain damage. Now, just because TV shows get most of this wrong isn’t what’s dangerous. It’s the fact that we believe a lot more of what we see on TV than we should. When 269 people were asked where they got information about CPR, Almost half said they used TV shows as a source.

One survey found that nearly a quarter of older people believed that 90% of CPR cases survived. Which may lead them to opt for CPR themselves. And that’s especially problematic for people over 65, who have lower survival rates than younger patients. So, when it comes to medical advice ask a real doctor.

And let the attractive actors in scrubs do what they do best: Entertain (not teach).

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