Speaking First Aid: What Does CAB Stand for in CPR? 

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more commonly known by the abbreviation CPR, is a crucial technique to use in emergencies where you need to provide first aid to a victim in critical condition. When performing CPR you aim to restore blood flow and help the victim experiencing cardiac arrest or respiratory failure to reestablish a breathing pattern and heart function.

The approach to performing CPR followed the easy mnemonics of ABC until a more practical approach emerged switching the order of the letters over to CAB. What does CAB stand for in CPR? Today, we’ll answer that question in detail, focusing on why this new approach is also an improved and more practical one, and how it affects the order of CPR techniques.

Understanding the Evolution of CPR

CPR is a methodology that keeps developing along with the evolution of medical science and all associated technology. The AHA introduced the first change in 2005, increasing the number of compressions from 5 to 30 and delivering two rescue breaths after each set of 30, as opposed to one breath following the original set of 5 compressions.

Since then, there have been many other adjustments in the CPR procedure, from how to position the victim to the latest developments in the ABC, or better said, CBA of CPR. Let’s focus on these three letters for now.

The ABC Sequence

Traditionally, CPR training focused on the ABC sequence, which was an easy way to remember the order of delivering crucial first aid: Airway, Breathing, and Compression. According to this approach, you first need to check whether the airway (A) of the victim is open and remove any blockages if it isn’t. This paves the way for providing rescue breaths (B) before moving on to initiate chest compressions.

As logical as the sequence is, it leads to delays in starting chest compressions. That, in turn, means the procedure delays the critical aspect of maintaining blood circulation first, delivering oxygen to vital organs as quickly as possible.

What Does CAB Stand for in CPR?

In 2010, the American Heart Association (AHA) introduced a significant change to the sequence of performing CPR by recommending a switch to CAB. In this sequence the order shifts to accommodate Compressions first, followed by Airway, and Breathing later.

The reason for the shift had to do with mounting scientific evidence demonstrating how prioritizing early chest compressions made notable differences in the survival and recovery rates of victims receiving CPR. This information shows chest compressions are the most important component of CPR, particularly for adult patients.

Decoding CAB: What Each Component Signifies

While the letters and associated techniques remain the same and only the sequence changes, it is important to understand what each of the holy trinity of CPR techniques involves from a practical standpoint:


The “C” in CAB stands for compressions as was already covered. Chest compressions help you perform the heart function when the victim’s heart has stopped working, allowing you to manually pump blood through the body. This helps supply the brain and other vital organs with oxygen reserves essential for their survival.

High-quality chest compressions should be delivered at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. Ensure each compression is 5-6cm deep allowing for full chest wall recoil before delivering the next. Performing compressions along the chorus of the popular Bee Gees hit Stayin’ Alive is a great way to maintain a steady rhythm.


Following the delivery of 30 chest compressions, you should turn to the “A” in CAB, which stands for airway. Opening the airway is crucial for effective resuscitation, as rescue breaths make no sense if the air can’t reach the lungs. Body positioning is crucial to open up the airways. The tilt-chin lift maneuver allows you to move the base of the tongue away from the back of the throat, which removes any potential blockages of the airway.


After ensuring an open airway, the “B” section of the CAB sequence takes center stage. Representing breathing, it involves delivering crucial rescue breaths after each set of 30 chest compressions. The ratio to aim for is 30 compressions to 2 rescue breaths.

To deliver rescue breaths successfully, you need to create a seal over the victim’s mouth and pinch their nose. Each rescue breath should last approximately one second and you should be looking at the victim’s chest, ensuring they raise as you deliver the breath.

The Rationale Behind the CAB Sequence

From a physiological standpoint, the underlying concept of CPR is to deliver oxygen to vital organs that need it. Clearing the airways and breathing air into the victim’s lungs is necessary, but without blood circulation to take the oxygen to each organ in need, there is no point in only supplying oxygen.

The Importance of Blood Flow

The CAB sequence focuses on the critical need to restore blood flow as quickly as possible during a cardiac arrest. Research indicated that victims experiencing cardiac arrest can tolerate a brief delay in receiving rescue breaths because of the oxygen reserves in their blood.

Circulation, on the other hand, is something you have to restore as soon as possible. By initiating chest compressions first, you can actually maintain blood flow to vital organs, dramatically increasing the chances of a favorable outcome.

Minimizing Delays and Improving Efficiency

Reducing potential delays in aiding circulation is where CAB outshines the traditional ABC sequence. With ABC, you were supposed to focus on checking the airway and providing rescue breaths before initiating chest compressions. This is time-consuming, especially for someone who has never administered first aid in real-life situations before.

Things can get even more complicated when you need to use additional CPR equipment like face masks or shields. Shifting the focus to chest compressions over clearing the airway, the CAB sequence minimizes delays and greatly improves the effects of your CPR.

Supporting Evidence

The adoption of the CAB sequence in CPR is based on extensive research and the recommendations of organizations like the American Heart Association. Their 2010 CPR and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Guidelines emphasize the importance of high-quality chest compressions and why delivering them without delay is crucial.

Performing CPR Using the CAB Sequence

Now that we covered what CAB stands for in CPR, let’s take a closer look at how to perform each of the steps in the CAB sequence in detail. Remember that this information is only to raise awareness and does not replace the theoretical and practical knowledge you gain by undergoing an accredited CPR Certification course.

With that settled, let’s explore CAB techniques step-by-step:

    1. Assess the scene: Before initiating CPR, you have to make sure the area is safe for both you and the victim.

    1. Call for emergency medical services: Whenever you are delivering CPR, especially if the person is unresponsive, call for professional medical assistance before initiating the CAB sequence.

    1. Check for breaths and pulse: Try to assess the victim’s breathing and pulse by checking if the chest is moving and feeling for a pulse. If one or both are absent, start chest compressions immediately.

    1. Victim’s position: The victim should be supine on a firm surface, such as the ground or a flat floor.

    1. Start chest compressions: Place the lower part of the palm of one hand over the middle of the victim’s chest, covering it with the other hand. Keep your hands firmly locked and arms straight and use your upper body to deliver compressions. Deliver the first 30 compressions before administering breaths.

    1. Secure an open airway: Tilt the head back and elevate the chin to ensure the airways are clear.

    1. Deliver rescue breaths: 2 rescue breaths follow each set of 30 chest compressions. Make sure the airway stays clear while you deliver the breaths.

    1. Continue the cycle – Repeat the cycle of compressions and breaths until emergency medical services arrive or the victim shows signs of recovery and starts breathing on their own.

CAB in CPR: Final Words

The CAB sequence in CPR represents a significant improvement in the approach to resuscitation. Prioritizing chest compressions over airway and breathing, allows you to maximize blood flow and oxygenation to vital organs during a cardiac arrest or other emergencies. Understanding what does CAB stand for in CPR (Compressions, Airway, and Breathing) arms you with the knowledge to significantly improve someone’s survival chances.

By performing updated CPR techniques correctly, you will be prepared to respond effectively in emergencies and potentially save lives. All you need to get CPR certified in Tampa is to contact us and pick out one of our many CPR certification courses that we offer both in-person and online!