top of page
  • CRUX Medical

The ABCDEs of Saving Lives: A Guide to Performing a Medical Primary Survey

In the face of a medical emergency, staying calm and taking decisive action is crucial. Especially for unresponsive or critically injured patients, immediate assessment and intervention can mean the difference between life and death. This is where the primary survey comes in - a systematic approach used by medical professionals to rapidly identify and address life-threatening conditions.

While a primary survey should ideally be performed by trained personnel, understanding the basic steps can empower you to act effectively in an emergency situation. Remember, the key is to prioritise actions that ensure the patient's survival.

The ABCDEs of the Primary Survey

The primary survey follows a mnemonic known as ABCDE, which stands for:

A - Airway: This is the top priority. Check for any obstructions that might be preventing the patient from breathing. Look for signs of choking, bleeding in the mouth, or foreign objects. If necessary, open the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin (head tilt-chin lift manoeuvre).

B - Breathing: Once you've ensured an open airway, assess the patient's breathing. Look for chest movement, listen for breath sounds, and check for a normal respiratory rate. If the patient is not breathing or breathing inadequately, consider CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

C - Circulation: Assess the patient's circulation to determine if they are in shock. Check for a pulse (strong, weak, or absent) and note skin colour and temperature (pale, clammy skin can indicate shock). If there are signs of shock, focus on controlling bleeding and improving blood flow.

D - Disability: After addressing the immediate threats to life, assess the patient's neurological state. This involves checking their level of consciousness (awake, responsive, or unresponsive) and their pupillary response (size and reaction to light).

E - Exposure/Environmental Control: Finally, expose the patient to identify any hidden injuries and maintain a safe environment for both the patient and the caregiver. This may involve carefully removing clothing while maintaining modesty.

Points to Remember:

  • The primary survey is a rapid assessment, typically taking less than two minutes.

  • Focus on interventions that directly address life-threatening issues.

  • If you are unsure about a specific step, prioritize maintaining an open airway and call for emergency help immediately.

Things to consider;

Catastrophic hemorrhage is the most immediate threat to life during a primary survey. It is the first component of the ABCDE approach used in trauma resuscitation but also consider it in any medical emergency you might face.

Check top - to - toe on the patient for any signs of bleeding. Remember to check the patient's back (if safe to do so) by rolling them slightly. Consider C-Spine support during this, if mechanism of injury suggests.

Control all life threatening bleeding before moving forward if you're able to.

Take away;

By understanding the basic principles of the primary survey, you can be better prepared to respond effectively in an emergency situation. Remember, early intervention can significantly improve the outcome for a critically ill or injured person.

checking for pulse during medical training


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical training. If you encounter a medical emergency, always call for help from qualified medical personnel.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page