During A Heart Attack Can You Give Yourself CPR By Coughing?

Hey there Mate,

Today I received a an email from a well meaning friend on how to care for yourself if you are having a heart attack.

It opens with a very emotive spiel of a man on his way home from work when chest pain kicks in:

Let’s say it’s 6.15pm and you’re going home (alone of course),
after an unusually hard day on the job. You’re really tired, upset and frustrated. Suddenly you start experiencing severe pain in yourchest that starts to drag out into your arm and up into your jaw. You are only about five miles from the hospital nearest your home. Unfortunately you don’t know if you’ll be able to make it that far. You have been trained in CPR, but the guy that taught the course did not tell you how to perform it on yourself..!!

Huh? Do CPR on yourself? Really? Well yes apparently…

Since many people are alone when they suffer a heart attack, without help, the person whose heart is beating improperly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness.
However, these victims can help themselves by coughing repeatedly and very vigorously.
A deep breath should be taken before each cough, and the cough must be deep and prolonged, as when producing sputum from deep inside the chest.
A breath and a cough must be repeated about every two seconds without let-up until help arrives, or until the heart is felt to be beating normally again.
Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating.
The squeezing pressure on the heart also helps it regain normal rhythm. In this way, heart attack victims can get to a hospital.

Hmmm so would you like the quick version or the long version?

No offence but this is really not a safe alternative to medical care. A heart attack is a medical emergency and you need help fast. Never delay getting help by stopping to practice rhythmic coughing.

For the full explanation of why the above information is not only wrong but  may cause ultimately preventable deaths check out this post on snopes.com. To quote:

Dr. Richard O. Cummins, Seattle’s director of emergency cardiac care, explains that cough CPR raises the pressure in the chest just enough to maintain some circulation of oxygen-containing blood and help enough get to the brain to maintain consciousness for a prolonged period. But cough CPR should be used only by a person about to lose consciousness, an indication of cardiac arrest, he cautions.

It can be dangerous for someone having a heart attack that does not result in cardiac arrest. Such a person should call for help and then sit quietly until help arrives, he says. In other words, the procedure might be the right thing to attempt or it might be the very thing that would kill the afflicted depending on which sort of cardiac crisis is being experienced. Without a doctor there to judge the situation and, if cough CPR is indicated, to supervise the rhythmic coughing, the procedure is just far too risky for a layman to attempt.

So if you are having chest pain what should you do?

Firstly if you are driving a car pull over as soon as is safe. If you are going to get worse or lose consciousness you don’t want to be driving a car.

Get help immediately. Call an ambulance first and get medical help.

If you have aspirin take one 300mg tablet. Chew it in your mouth and swallow as soon as you can. As old fashioned as aspirin sounds, aspirin saves lives.

Getting rapid medical attention saves lives.

Sitting in your car trying to work out when to cough at the right time? Uh no, that does not save lives.

Guys if you have been sent the above  email, please don’t share it. This information is dangerous and may delay people from getting the urgent medical care they require. Heart attacks are not the time to mess around.

Sounds great, but sorry guys it’s a myth.

Yours in good health.

Dr George

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