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What Is the Difference Between BLS and ACLS?

BLS may be practiced by the general public, and includes CPR.
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  • Written By: Kathleen Strecker
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Basic life support (BLS) and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) are different levels of emergency care. BLS can be learned and practiced by the general public, and primarily includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid and sometimes the use of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs). ACLS typically is used only by healthcare professionals and includes the use of medications to treat emergency heart-related conditions and strokes.

All BLS and ACLS providers are trained to administer CPR. Those who have completed a comprehensive BLS course might also be able to administer related life-saving maneuvers. These include rescue breathing, maneuvers to relieve choking, using a bag-mask to assist breathing and using an AED.

Trained ACLS providers use algorithms to assess and treat emergency cases. They typically survey the patient using the basic BLS points of airway, breathing and circulation, then proceed to more advanced surveys. These might call for treatment using intubation, bag-mask ventilations or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). They also might require intravenous (IV) or intraosseous (IO) fluids and appropriate medications to manage cardiac rhythm or blood pressure.

BLS and ACLS training can be completed in different ways. Courses in BLS and ACLS are available through many health and wellness organizations, private providers and online. Some professions, such as lifeguards, teachers and police officers, might require workers to obtain a BLS certificate as part of their employment requirements.

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ACLS training is offered in the form of one- or two-day classes. Licensed healthcare professionals working in emergency treatment, intensive care or critical care, such as physicians, nurses or paramedics, are eligible to obtain ACLS certification, which might be a requirement for their employment. The content differs between the initial and renewal courses because it is expected that professionals seeking renewal of their ACLS certification are actively working in the field and frequently encountering emergency situations.

BLS and ACLS emergency care protocols share basic lifesaving skills. Certification in BLS might not be required for healthcare providers who want to take an ACLS course. Their BLS skills, however, will be reviewed and evaluated as part of the ACLS course.

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