What is Basic Life Support (BLS)?

Paramedics provide basic life support when a patient is en route to the hospital.
First responders often perform BLS while still on the scene of an accident.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2014
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Basic Life Support (BLS) is basic medical aid which is offered to people before they reach a hospital, or in situations where high-level medical care is not immediately available. Emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and other first responders can perform BLS, and people without formal medical training may be able to offer basic life support after taking a workshop to learn the basics. The idea behind BLS is that while it cannot always save a patient, it may keep a patient functioning long enough for more advanced measures to be taken.

The key to basic life support is maintaining the ABCs: airway, breathing, and circulation. When providing basic life support, responders may utilize cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to restart the patient's breathing, if necessary, and they can also provide basic treatment for cuts, broken limbs, and other problems. Often, the goal is just to stabilize the patient, not to provide lasting treatment.

Invasive procedures and drugs are usually not part of basic life support. In BLS training, people learn about a protocol to follow, which starts with securing the scene, and then determining whether or not the patient is responsive. If the patient is unresponsive, a series of steps can be taken to make the patient's condition more stable. BLS providers sometimes carry shortcut cards which list the steps in order, depending on the situation, with specific directions for airway obstructions, hypothermia, and other situations.


Medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and paramedics can provide BLS, since BLS is a very early part of medical training. First responders like police officers and fire fighters are also usually given BLS training so that they can provide assistance at a scene. Lay people can take BLS classes, which last several hours to several days, depending on the level of training involved, so that they can offer BLS. The ability to perform BLS can be especially useful for people who work with the public in environments like schools, gymnasiums, and restaurants.

BLS is not intended to be used alone. If basic life support is being offered to someone in medical need, it should be accompanied by a call to emergency services. The person making the call should be able to provide as much information as possible about the situation and the patient's condition. People do not need to know medical terminology; just telling the operator that the patient appears to have a broken leg, or appears to be bleeding profusely from a particular region of the body, can be extremely helpful. The operator will also want to know if the patient is responsive, and if any life support measures have been taken at the scene.


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