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Clinical SKills

What is Basic Life Support (BLS)? A Complete Guide


Lead Academy

9 Mins Read

Imagine you’re out and about when you see someone collapse. They’re not breathing, and you fear the worst. In that critical moment, knowing basic life support (BLS) / basic life-saving skills can mean the difference between life and death. So, what is basic life support?

Here’s the brief: BLS is a set of essential skills used to help someone in a life-threatening situation until they receive full medical attention. It’s like first aid for critical emergencies, focusing on keeping a person’s heart pumping and oxygen flowing until help arrives.

So, BLS is like your special ability –

    • the ability to rescue lives,
    • make your community stronger,
    • and become the hero you didn’t know you could be.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore what BLS means, why it’s crucial for your safety, and how it helps you respond effectively when someone’s life is at risk.

 A cartoon of a man and a woman with a red bag and a syringe in a medical setting.

What is Basic Life Support (BLS)?

Basic Life Support means knowing simple first-aid techniques to save lives. The Resuscitation Council (UK) provides guidelines for first aiders to follow when giving Basic Life Support. These guidelines include:

    • How to handle an emergency safely.
    • What to do if someone is unconscious but breathing (putting them in the recovery position).
    • What to do if someone is unconscious and not breathing (performing CPR & following the Chain of Survival).
    • How to help someone who is choking, both mildly and severely (using back slaps & abdominal thrusts).
    • How to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if one is available.

blog-star Are you looking to gain essential life-saving skills?

Taking a Basic Life Support Training | Face to Face Practical Course course from Lead Academy can give you important knowledge and hands-on practice. In face-to-face classes, you'll learn how to handle emergencies step by step, help choking victims, manage breathing problems, and use AEDs properly. You'll also feel more confident giving oxygen, using airway tools, and helping people who aren't responding. This training helps you handle tough situations well, which could save lives in real emergencies.

What is the Purpose of Basic Life Support?

Basic Life Support (BLS) is all about buying time for someone in a life-threatening situation. Here’s a breakdown of its purpose-

    • BLS is used to provide immediate medical attention to individuals experiencing a life-threatening emergency.
    • BLS techniques are used to maintain the airway, breathing, and circulation of the person until more advanced medical care can be provided.
    • The goal of BLS is to prevent further harm and increase the chances of survival for the individual in distress.
    • BLS is typically provided by trained medical professionals, such as paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), or other healthcare providers.
    • BLS techniques include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), and other emergency interventions to stabilise the person’s condition.

Two male paramedics giving oxygen to injured girl.
What Does Basic Life Support Involve?

Basic Life Support (BLS) is a series of actions taken in a life-threatening emergency to keep someone alive until they receive advanced medical care. Here’s a detailed breakdown of what BLS involves:

Scene Assessment and Safety

Before initiating any assistance, always prioritise your safety and assess the scene carefully for potential dangers.

    • The Golden Rule: Ensure your own safety before approaching the victim. Look for any dangers like traffic, downed power lines, or hazardous materials.
    • Check Responsiveness: Try talking to the person or gently tapping their shoulder to see if they respond. Look for any movement or signs that they are alive.
    • Abnormal Breathing: Check if the person’s breathing seems weak or shallow or if they’re gasping for air. Watch for their chest to see if it rises and falls. Listen for any strange sounds like gurgling or wheezing.
    • No Pulse: Find the pulse in the wrist (radial artery) or neck (carotid artery) by pressing your two fingers firmly for about 10-15 seconds. Check if you can feel a steady beat.
    • Activate Emergency Services: If they don’t respond, call for emergency help immediately (911 in the US, 999 in the UK, or 112 in many European countries). Put the call on speakerphone if possible so you can continue with the next steps.

Airway Management

After making sure that the place is safe, the next thing to do is to check the patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation.

    • Open the airway: If the person is unconscious and lying on their back, tilt their head back slightly and lift their chin (head-tilt chin-lift manoeuvre). This opens the airway for better breathing.
    • Check for Breathing: Look, listen, and feel for the signs of breathing for no more than 10 seconds. Look for chest rise and fall, listen for breath sounds near the mouth and nose, and feel for air on your cheek.

Young person demonstrating CPR on a dummy.

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)

If you feel you can’t handle the situation, it’s important to ask someone to call for professional medical help. An NHS ambulance can arrive quickly, usually within minutes.

Your job is to do basic CPR to improve the chances of the person surviving.

    • Position yourself: Kneel beside the person on a firm surface.
    • Locate the “compression point”: Place the heel of your dominant hand on the centre of the chest, between the nipples. Place your other hand on top and interlock your fingers.
    • Deliver chest compressions: Push down hard and fast at a rate of 100-120 compressions every minute. Aim to compress the chest by about 2 inches for adults and children. Allow the chest to recoil between compressions fully.
    • Rescue Breaths (if trained): If you’ve been trained in giving rescue breaths, pinch the person’s nose shut, seal your mouth around theirs, and give two slow breaths, each lasting about 1 second. Watch for the chest to rise with each breath.

Remember to give two rescue breaths and repeat the cycle after 30 compressions. BLS is most effective when started immediately. Even if you’re not sure what’s wrong, starting CPR on basic life support can make a critical difference. Every minute counts in a life-threatening situation.

Check out our informative blog to get a detailed understanding of CPR.

Using an AED (Automated External Defibrillator)

If an AED is available, use it as soon as possible. AEDs are portable devices that analyse the heart rhythm and can deliver an electric shock if needed. This shock can potentially restart a stopped heart.

Most AEDs have clear voice instructions that will guide you through the process. Simply follow the prompts and connect the AED pads to the person’s bare chest as instructed.

Partial view of paramedic practising chest compressions on a manikin close to a defibrillator.

Continue BLS Until Help Arrives

Continue CPR cycles (compressions and breaths if trained) until:

    • The person starts breathing normally on their own.
    • You become exhausted and unable to continue.
    • Trained medical personnel arrive and take over.

Foreign-Body Airway Obstruction Management

Helping someone who is choking means using abdominal thrusts or back blows to clear their blocked airway and help them breathe normally again. Act quickly and call for medical help if the blockage doesn’t go away.

    • Recognising Airway Obstruction: It’s important to notice signs of choking in adults, children, and babies so you can help right away.
    • Heimlich Manoeuvre: This technique involves using abdominal thrusts to remove objects stuck in the airways of conscious adults and children.
    • Back Blows and Chest Thrusts: For babies and unconscious people, using back blows and chest thrusts together can help dislodge the object.

Additional Things to Remember

BLS techniques may vary slightly depending on the age of the person. It’s important to get proper training to learn the specific steps for adults, children, and infants. BLS is not a replacement for advanced medical care. It’s designed to buy time until professional help arrives.

Take a look at our insightful blog to learn, “How long does a first aid certificate last?”

CPR abstract concept vector illustration

Some Other Events That May Require BLS

Here are some situations where Basic Life Support (BLS) may be needed:

    • Suffocation: This can happen from inhaling smoke, gas leaks, or being trapped in tight spaces. BLS can restart breathing until medical help arrives.
    • Drowning: When someone can’t breathe after being underwater. BLS can help restart breathing and revive them.
    • Severe allergic reactions: Anaphylaxis can block the airway and stop the heart. BLS can open the airway until help arrives.
    • Drug overdose: Taking too many drugs can make someone stop breathing or their heart stop. BLS can restart breathing until medical help arrives.
    • Trauma: Severe injuries can stop breathing or the heart. BLS can help restart breathing and sustain life until medical help arrives.

Check out our informative blog if you want to know the right answer to your question, “How much does a first aid course cost?”


1. Is BLS the same as CPR?

BLS includes CPR as a crucial component but also covers other lifesaving techniques. CPR is a specific procedure within BLS aimed at maintaining blood circulation and oxygenation during cardiac arrest.

2. What are the 7 steps of basic life support?

7 Basic Life Support steps involve:

  1. Check scene safety,
  2. Check responsiveness,
  3. Open airway,
  4. Check breathing,
  5. Begin CPR (if needed),
  6. Use AED (if available),
  7. Continue BLS cycles until help arrives.

3. What is ABCD in basic life support?

ABCD in basic life support stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, and Defibrillation. It’s a systematic approach to prioritise actions in an emergency, ensuring proper care is provided. These steps help address critical needs like maintaining airway patency, assessing breathing, checking circulation, and using defibrillation if needed.

4. What does ACLS mean?

ACLS stands for Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support. It’s a step up from BLS, meant for medical professionals. ACLS involves using medications, advanced procedures, and equipment alongside CPR to treat serious heart problems.

5. What is the first treatment for BLS?

The first treatment in BLS depends on the situation:

    • Unconscious, not breathing: Start CPR (chest compressions).
    • Unconscious, breathing: Open the airway and monitor breathing.
    • Conscious, but potential cardiac issue: Call emergency services and stay calm.

6. Who should learn BLS?

Anyone can learn BLS, not just healthcare providers. It’s important for lifeguards, teachers, coaches, and others who might need to save lives.

7. Is BLS different from first aid?

Yes, BLS is a specific type of first aid for serious emergencies. On the other hand, first aid includes any medical help given before professionals arrive.

Wrapping Up

In the end, Basic Life Support (BLS) is really important during emergencies. It helps people learn what to do to help and save lives. Whether it’s giving CPR, helping with breathing, or knowing when someone needs help, BLS teaches us to act quickly and confidently when things get serious. The main goal of Basic Life Support is to give communities the tools they need to respond fast and effectively in life-threatening situations. So, what is Basic Life Support? It’s about being ready to make a big difference when time is running out.

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