What Is ACLS?

What Is ACLS?

ACLS is a class that teaches medical professionals various procedures for conditions such as cardiac arrest, stroke, and heart arrythmias. The class is not intended for non-medical professionals.

Non-medical professionals should consider either nationally accredited online CPR certifications or in-person CPR certifications to learn valuable life-saving techniques so they can confidently respond to cardiac arrest victims.

Which Course Is Right for Me?

ACLS is for healthcare professionals who either lead or participate in the management of various medical emergencies. It is primarily intended for professionals who are proficient in BLS skills, can read ECGs, are proficient in ACLS pharmacology, and who regularly lead or participate in emergency assessment and treatment or pre-cardiac arrest patients, and patients experiencing cardiac arrest.

Types of ACLS Treatments

Airway Stabilization

Airway stabilization includes placing a breathing tube in the patient’s windpipe, otherwise known as intubation, and learning how to operate mechanical ventilation using a ventilator to perform the patient’s breathing for them.

Aerial Line Insertion

Aerial line insertion describes the processes that take continuous blood pressure readings. It also teaches the participant how to insert a catheter into an artery to draw blood necessary for lab testing.

Breathing Treatment

ACLS teaches students how to open the airway of patients experiencing complications due to asthma, allergic reactions, or COPD.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a life-saving technique used to respond to cardiac arrest emergencies. When a patient goes into cardiac arrest, their heart stops. Rapid response is critical during these emergencies because it continues blood circulation and prevents tissue death.


Cardioversion treats certain types of arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation. Cardioversion uses specific medications and low-grade electrical shocks to restore function to the heart. Typically, cardioversion is a scheduled procedure. However, medical professionals might have to perform emergency cardioversion. ACLS trains medical professionals for emergency cardioversion.

Chest Tubes or Needle Decompression

ACLS teaches participants how to perform a needle thoracostomy, which is an emergency procedure used to re-inflate a collapsed lung. A tube thoracostomy typically occurs after a needle thoracostomy for pneumothorax, traumatic hemothorax, or large pleural effusions with evidence of respiratory complications.


There are several types of defibrillation taught in ACLS. Defibrillation uses an electrical shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. Participants will learn about the different types of defibrillation and how to perform defibrillation in both groups and individually.

Intravenous or Central Venous Catheter Placement

This procedure shows participants how to insert catheters into a patient so they can deliver fluids, medications, and perform blood transfusions.

IV Medications

IV medications are different from catheters and they can reverse life-threatening allergic reactions, correct acidosis, and suppress abnormal heartbeats. IV medications will reduce the workload on the heart, reduce fluid buildup, and dissolve blood clots that cause heart attacks. Additionally, they can improve blood pressure and vital signs.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen to patients experiencing oxygen deficiency.

Why Is Advanced Cardiovascular Support Performed?

ACLS can be used to respond to the following situations:

  • Comas resulting from stroke, head injuries, seizures, meningitis, and diabetes.
  • Drug toxicity and chemical exposures from incidents such as overdoses, poisoning, and severe allergic reactions to medications
  • Electrolyte imbalances that include abnormal amounts of potassium, calcium, or magnesium in the bloodstream.
  • Heart conditions including cardiac arrest, heart attack, congenital heart defects, congestive heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)
  • Respiratory failure including problems due to asthma, pulmonary edema, and pulmonary embolisms
  • Allergic reactions including anaphylaxis
  • Shock resulting from severe blood loss, spinal cord injuries, heart conditions, and sepsis
  • Terminal illnesses such as liver failure and advanced stages of cancer.
  • Traumas and injuries including severe burns, major clots, head and spinal cord injuries, multiple trauma, and smoke inhalation.

Who Performs ACLS?

Medical professionals with specialized training should be the only ones performing advanced cardiac life support. ACLS teams typically include doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. The following medical professionals can support ACLS. 

Cardiac surgeons: cardiac surgeons are the most versed in ACLS techniques. These medical professionals are also known as cardiothoracic surgeons.

Cardiologists: cardiologists specialize in the medical treatment of the heart and are well-trained in ACLS.

Critical care medicine doctors: These doctors specialize in diagnosing and managing life-threatening conditions.

Emergency medicine and trauma doctors or nurses: These medical professionals issue rapid response to acute illnesses, conditions, traumas, and complications due to chronic diseases

Thoracic surgeons: These are medical professionals who specialize in the surgical treatment of diseases in the chest, blood vessels, heart, lungs, asnd esophagus. They might also be known as cardiothoracic surgeons.

What Are the Risks to ACLS?

The procedures involved in ACLS can cause significant complications including the following:

  • Broken ribs and chest pain caused by CPR.
  • Skin burns, irritation, myocardial necrosis (death of heart muscle tissue), and cardiac arrhythmias caused by defibrillation and cardioversion. Cardioversion can also displace large blood clots developed in response to arrhythmias. The blood clot can travel to the lung or brain causing a stroke or pulmonary embolism.
  • IVs, central venous catheters, and arterial lines can cause hematomas and block arteries, reducing blood supply.
  • Medications can cause allergic reactions and side effects.

Key Takeaways

ACLS is primarily intended for medical professionals who need to respond to a wide array of medical emergencies. In this class, professionals learn how to perform CPR, defibrillation, deliver medications through catheters and IVs, and perform various other life-saving techniques in medical situations. ACLS is not intended for non-medical professionals.

Asheley Rice

I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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