Top 10 things to know about the AHA ACLS 2020 updates

Plus, how things differ in a COVID-19 cardiac arrest case


Top 10 things to know about the AHA ACLS 2020 updates1

1. There were no changes to the 2015 cardiac arrest algorithms.

Dr. Jessica Allen, assistant professor of medicine, division of hospital medicine, Emory University, Atlanta

Dr. Jessica Nave Allen

2. The 2020 adult bradycardia algorithm increased the atropine dose to 1 mg (from 0.5-1 mg) but maintains the same frequency of dosing as every 3-5 minutes with max dose of 3 mg.

3. Epinephrine was reaffirmed. Specifically, give epinephrine as soon as possible in nonshockable rhythms (pulseless electrical activity and asystole). In shockable rhythms (ventricular fibrillation and pulseless ventricular tachycardia), the timing is less clear but it is reasonable to give the first dose after initial defibrillation attempts have failed. Currently the shockable rhythms algorithm has the first dose of epinephrine given after the second shock.

4. Giving medications intravenously is preferred over intraosseous (IO) cannulation because of some small observational studies that showed worsened outcomes with IO delivery. Try to get an IV if possible, but can still use IO if necessary. Central venous catheters are still not recommended during a code unless no other access can be obtained.

5. Double sequential defibrillation in refractory VF, which is the application of two sets of pads using two defibrillators to provide defibrillation either in rapid succession or at the same time, is not recommended because of lack of evidence.

6. It is reasonable to use physiological parameters such as arterial blood pressure or end-tidal CO2 (EtCO2) to monitor CPR quality. Goal EtCO2 is greater than 10 but ideally greater 20 mm Hg, so if you’re not reaching that ideal goal, push harder and/or faster! Of note, to use arterial blood pressure monitoring you must have an arterial line in place and to get adequate EtCO2 monitoring, the patient must be intubated with an EtCO2 monitor attached.

7. The need for intubation and the ideal timing are still unknown. The American Heart Association recommends either bag valve mask or an advanced airway.

8. In pregnant patients who develop cardiac arrest, focus on high-quality CPR and relief of aortocaval compression through left lateral uterine displacement while the patient is supine. This means that someone on the team stands on the left side of the patient and cups the uterus, pulling it up and leftward. Alternately, if standing on the right of the patient, push the uterus left and upward off of the maternal vessels.

9. AHA released new algorithms for opioid overdose given the current crisis. There is an absence of proven naloxone benefit in cardiac arrest so focus on standard resuscitative efforts and do not wait for effects of naloxone before initiating CPR. However, naloxone is still reasonable to give if overdose is suspected.

10. Clinicians should wait a minimum of 72 hours after return to normothermia before performing multimodal neuroprognostication. This allows for confounding factors (that is, meds) to hopefully be removed for improved accuracy.

Top 5 things that differ in a COVID-19+/PUI cardiac arrest case2

1. Don adequate personal protective equipment prior to entering the room. This might create a necessary delay in care.

2. Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter on all airway modalities.

3. Intubate as early as possible by someone highly experienced and place the patient on a ventilator with HEPA filter while undergoing resuscitation. This decreases aerosolization risk.

4. Use a mechanical CPR device if possible. This results in less people needed in the room.

5. If a patient is NOT intubated but is prone when they arrest, safely turn them supine and perform resuscitative effort. If a patient is intubated and prone when they arrest: If unable to safely turn them, place the pads in the AP position and perform compressions over T7-T10 vertebral bodies. Evidence for this is extremely limited but comes from a small pilot study which showed that reverse CPR generated a higher mean arterial pressure, compared with standard resuscitation.3

Dr. Allen is assistant professor of medicine in the division of hospital medicine at Emory University, Atlanta.


1. Merchant RM et al. Part 1: Executive Summary: 2020 American Heart Association guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency cardiovascular care. Circulation. 2020 Oct 21;142:S337-57. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000918.

2. Edelson DP et al. Interim guidance for basic and advanced life support in adults, children, and neonates with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. 2020 Jun 23;141(25):e933-43. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.047463.

3. Mazer SP et al. Reverse CPR: A pilot study of CPR in the prone position. Resuscitation. 2003 Jun;57(3):279-85. doi: 10.1016/s0300-9572(03)00037-6.

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