A Brief Guide to ACLS Mnemonics and What They Mean for You

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What are the 2020 ACLS Mnemonics and How Do They Work Exactly?

The American Heart Association (AHA) has released new mnemonics to help healthcare professionals better remember important ACLS (advanced cardiac life support) steps. These new mnemonics are designed to be easier to remember and use, which will help healthcare professionals in an emergency.

In the past, the AHA has published a list of acronyms that were difficult to remember and use. The new mnemonics are designed with this problem in mind.

The 2020 ACLS mnemonics are used by healthcare professionals, as well as students who are training for ACLS certification. It has been shown to be an effective way of memorizing and recalling the sequence of events for CPR, AED, and other life-saving procedures. The following are a few examples of commonly-used ACLS mnemonics:

Medical students studying in class.
Medical student studying in a classroom.

What are Common ACLS Mnemonics?

RELATED: What is the Acronym “PALS” in Healthcare?

Primary Assessment Mnemonics

The mnemonic ABCDE for ACLS is a commonly used acronym for the five steps of airway management during the ACLS primary assessment: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, and Exposure.



A patent airway must be established before any other interventions can take place. There are several methods to establish a patent airway. The one that is most often used in patients with an altered level of consciousness is the head-tilt/chin-lift maneuver. The head should be tilted back and the chin lifted in order to open up the throat. A tongue depressor or other device can be placed under the tongue to keep it from blocking the airway. If there is an object blocking the mouth or throat (such as vomit), it should be removed as soon as possible.


When the airway is established, oxygen should be administered. If the patient can’t breathe on their own, artificial ventilation may be necessary. Use quantitative waveform capnography to monitor adequacy of ventilation and oxygenation. If their breathing rate is obstructed or their chest doesn’t rise and fall, they may need help breathing with a bag-valve mask (BVM) or other devices.


If the patient is in cardiac arrest, chest compressions should be started as soon as possible. Attach a cardiac monitor/defibrillator and provide defibrillation or cardioversion if indicated.


Check neurologic functioning. Check the patient‘s level of consciousness by using the ACLS mnemonic AVPU (see below):


To perform a thorough exam, remove the victim’s clothing, and look for obvious signs of trauma or medical alert bracelets.

Within the ABCDE mnemonic lies another under “Disability”, called the AVPU: Alert, Voice, Painful, Unresponsive:


  • Alert
  • Voice
  • Painful
  • Unresponsive

Secondary Assessment Mnemonics

The Secondary Assessment involves a focused history, searching for underlying causes of the incident, treating underlying causes (H’s and T’s), and formulating a differential diagnosis. In the Secondary Assessment, ACLS providers must ask specific questions relating to the patient’s condition. It may be helpful to use the following ACLS mnemonic SAMPLE to guide you through this assessment:


  • Signs and symptoms
  • Allergies
  • Medications
  • Past medical history
  • Last meal consumed
  • Events leading to the current illness or injury

The H‘s and T‘s are also a secondary assessment ACLS mnemonic, used for identifying reversible causes:

H’s and T’s:

The H’sThe T’s
Hypovolemia Tension Pneumothorax
Hypoxia Tamponade
H+ (acidosis) Toxins
Hypokalemia or Hyperkalemia Thrombosis (coronary)
Hypothermia Thrombosis (pulmonary)

Getting Ready for an Emergency with the ACLS 2020 Mnemonics

Take the Medical ProCerts ACLS certification course for the latest ACLS 2020 guideline updates including all of the latest mnemonics. Download a FREE ACLS course-pack and get studying today!

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