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an ambu bag for CPR
A typical example of an Ambu bag

If you’re like the majority of us that have ever been interested in medical shows, or even any kind of media which portrays some sort of medical situation, you may have noticed an interesting-looking plastic bag being used on patients as they get wheeled into an ambulance or off to hospital.

You may have even heard an emergency responder yelling to “Bag ’em” on the scene of a medical emergency – and no they don’t mean put them in a body bag (at least not usually…!). What they’re talking about is an ambu bag, which is something most people can’t even name, let alone explain the workings of.

This fantastic breathing tool is an important medical device that medical responders have been using to great success for years now. Here we’ll explain a bit more about ambu bags and how they are used in CPR.

What is an Ambu bag?

First of all, to put it very simply, an ambu bag is a medical tool which forces air into the lungs of patients who have either ceased breathing completely or who are struggling to breathe properly and need additional assistance.

They’re important parts of first-aid and crash-care kits, and they’re supposed to only be used by trained medical professionals, but in a real emergency, even an attempt by an untrained person may keep oxygen in someone’s lungs and save their life.

What does Ambu stand for?

Yep, even though it’s typically written as “Ambu” or just “ambu”, AMBU is actually an acronym that stands for “artificial manual breathing unit” and refers to bag valve masks. The reason it’s just written as Ambu is because the original Ambu bag was developed by a company called Testa Laboratory, and they later went on to rebrand as just Ambu in the 80s.

Do Ambu bags go by any other names?

As alluded to above, the branded ‘Ambu bag’ term has become something of a generic term for bag valve masks, just like some people refer to any tissue as a Kleenex, and many British people will refer to any vacuum cleaner as a Hoover.

How to do CPR with an Ambu bag?

  1. See if there is another way you can get a patient who is not breathing to breathe again. If this cannot be done, proceed with an Ambu bag.
  2. Make sure the patient’s airway is clear of mucus and not blocked by any foreign bodies or their own tongue.
  3. Tilt the patient’s head back slightly so that the nose is up. You can place something under their neck or shoulders to keep them in the right position, like a rolled up towel or jumper.
  4. Ensure that the Ambu bag is sealed and connected properly. The bag should be connected to the oxygen tubing, and the tubing should be connected to the regulator on the tank.
  5. Place the mask tightly over the patient’s mouth and nose.
  6. Begin ventilations. Squeeze the Ambu bag hard enough to make the patient’s chest rise just as it would with a normal breath. Squeeze once every 2-3 seconds for a child, every 5-6 seconds for an adult. If the patient’s head is not rising, adjust their position and try again.

You can watch a basic explanatory video about doing CPR with an Ambu bag here:

There are no contraindications for using an Ambu bag in this way, and it is an excellent tool in situations of hypercapnic respiratory failure, hypoxic respiratory failure, apnea, or altered mental status with the inability to protect the airway.

Its usage is also recommended while delivering breaths during cardiopulmonary resuscitation.