The ABCs of first aid: 5 acronyms that might help save a life


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Sep 15, 2023

In an emergency, a quick response can make the difference between a minor mishap and a life-altering event. But in that moment, will you remember what to do?

Fortunately, safety experts have come up with mnemonic devices – memory tools that help you quickly recall information – for some of the most common first-aid techniques. From handling injuries to responding to emergencies, these acronyms help you stay calm, act swiftly and make a real difference when it matters most.

Here are five of the most common first-aid acronyms you should know.


One of the most widely known safety acronyms is CPR. It stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the lifesaving procedure that is performed when someone’s heart stops beating. But the acronym also can help you remember the steps to follow if someone collapses and isn’t breathing.

  • Check for responsiveness. Gently tap the person or talk loudly to them.
  • Paramedics. If the person doesn’t respond, get medical help. Ask someone nearby to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.
  • Resuscitate. Begin efforts to revive the person.


To perform CPR effectively, remember the CAB acronym:

  • Chest compressions. Place hands on the center of the person’s chest and push firmly, aiming for 100 compressions per minute.
  • Airway. After about 30 compressions, tilt their head back slightly and lift the chin to open their airway
  • Breathe. Pinch the person’s nose closed, make a seal over their mouth with yours, and breathe twice into their mouth.

You also can perform hands-only CPR – chest compressions only, with no rescue breathing. This procedure can be just as effective as full CPR in cases where you’ve seen the person collapse. The American Heart Association recommends full CPR for CPR with compressions and breaths for infants and children; people who drown or overdose; or people who collapse due to breathing problems.


Recognizing stroke signs is crucial for quick response and can make a life-saving difference. Knowing common signs and symptoms is essential for quick response and effective treatment. Use the acronym BEFAST to remember the key signs of stroke.

  • Balance. Sudden loss of balance or coordination.
  • Eyes. Changes in vision, including loss of sight.
  • Face. Drooping on one side of the face, making it difficult to smile.
  • Arm. Weakness or numbness in one arm. Often, the person also can’t raise both arms evenly.
  • Speech. Slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding words.
  • Time. Recognizing these signs and promptly seeking medical attention is crucial, as time is of the essence in treating a stroke to minimize damage.


Minor accidents can occur anywhere, from home to school or sports events. Remember the RICE acronym for treating injuries like an ankle sprain or other joint injury.

  • Rest. Have the person stop using or moving the injured area. For most minor injuries, it’s best not to put weight on the injury for 24-48 hours.
  • Ice. Apply ice on the injured area for about 15 minutes every two to three hours for the first couple of days. If you don’t have an ice bag, use a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a towel.
  • Compression. Wrap the injury with a medical bandage or other clean cloth. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly as this could cause further damage.
  • Elevation. If possible, raise the injured area above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling and pain.


Of course, some accidents and injuries are more serious than a bad bruise or a sprain. If you need to stop major bleeding, remember ABC.

  • Alert. Notify medical personnel or ask someone to do it for you.
  • Bleeding. Locate the source of the bleeding.
  • Compress. Apply pressure to stop the blood flow. Cover the wound with bandages or a clean cloth and apply pressure with your hands. You can also use a tourniquet or make one by using a cloth to tie off the blood supply between the wound and the heart.

First aid is just the start

Of course, first aid is just that: the first help someone receives in an emergency. It’s not a replacement for professional medical evaluation and treatment, even if the injury or illness seems minor. Seeing a doctor afterward ensures proper care and prevents complications.

Want to learn more about preventing and treating injuries? Baylor Scott & White Health facilities offer a range of classes, including safety and first aid classes, to the public. Find a class near you.

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