A broken rib during CPR could save your brain

Deep chest compressions — the kind that break bones — improves survival and brain function.  

Erica Ngao 2 minute read August 24, 2020
man doing CPR on man lying in street

Chest compressions can prevent brain damage. Stock/Getty

During a cardiac arrest, deep chest compressions may crack ribs but they can also save your brain.

According to a new study presented at this year’s European Society of Cardiology Congress, researchers have found that deep chest compressions improve blood flow to the brain, which in turn, improves survival and brain function.  

The study ran from 2006 to 2020 and included 510 patients who survived cardiac arrest and were admitted to hospital while unconscious. Patients were divided into three groups which corresponded to the CPR guidelines updates that occur every five years: 2006-2010, 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.

Over the course of the study, researchers found that patients with CPR-related injuries were more likely to have better brain performance. Almost two-thirds (65.1 percent) of patients with injuries had high brain function compared to 43.2 percent without injuries. The most common types of injuries were rib or sternal fractures.

After 2010, when the guidelines called for deeper chest compressions, researchers found that there was a higher proportion of CPR-related injuries, however, brain performance at three months increased over the course of the study and was the highest among patients in the 2016-2020 group.

“Survival and neurological outcome improved significantly during the 14-year study,” said the study’s author Dr. Irene Marco Clement of University Hospital La Paz, in a press release. “Members of the public increasingly came to the rescue with CPR and there was greater use of defibrillators. Injuries from CPR rose, but these patients were less likely to have brain damage.” 

Noting that people might be reluctant to do CPR during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Marco Clement advises that those who fear infection can omit giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and focus on compressions. “Chest compressions alone may be as effective as conventional CPR.”


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