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Claim: Doctors generally recommend that one attempt to rhythmically cough during a heart attack to increase the chance of surviving it.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1999]
Origins: This helpful e-mail began its life on the Internet in June 1999, and in the spring of 2004 a Powerpoint presentation of it began circulating online. Those kindhearted souls who started it on its way likely had no inkling the advice they were forwarding could potentially be harmful to someone undergoing a heart attack, but that is indeed the
If you knew exactly what you were doing, this procedure might help save your life. If, however, you were to attempt cough CPR at the wrong time (because you misjudged the kind of cardiac event being experienced) or went about it in the wrong way, it could make matters worse.
Cough CPR is not a new procedure — it has been around for years and has been used successfully in isolated emergency cases where victims realized they were on the verge of fainting and about to go into full cardiac arrest (their hearts were about to stop) and knew exactly how to cough so as to keep enough oxygen-enriched blood circulating to prevent them from losing consciousness until help could be sought, or they were under the direct care of physicians who recognized the crises as they were taking place and were on hand to instruct patients step by step through the coughing. Even were the afflicted to correctly recognize they were experiencing the sort of cardiac event where cough CPR could help, without specific training to hit the right rhythms their coughing could turn mild heart attacks into fatal ones.
This is not to say cough CPR couldn't be effectively taught to patients deemed at risk of further heart attacks. According to a widely circulated news report surfacing in September 2003, a doctor in Poland has been attempting exactly that.
It is unclear from the news reports whether the Polish heart patients who supposedly experienced success with cough CPR were doing so under strict medical supervision in a hospital or were going about their private lives at the time of the cardiac events that prompted them to attempt the procedure. It is one thing for success to be achieved in a hospital setting where patients know intervention will swiftly follow if problems are encountered, and quite another when patients are in unscripted settings (at home, at work, or while driving in a car). Would such instruction hold up in field conditions, where those about to go into full cardiac arrest know there's no net under the tightrope?
Yet even if cough CPR can be effectively taught by physicians, it's not going to be learned from an
Although the text of the
Darla Bonham, Mended Heart's executive director, has since issued a statement about cough CPR:
I've received email from people all across the country wanting to know if it is a valid medically approved procedure. I contacted a scientist on staff with the American Heart Association Emergency Cardiac Care division, and he was able to track a possible source of the information. The information comes from a professional textbook on emergency cardiac care. This procedure is also known as "cough CPR" and is used in emergency situations by professional staff. The American Heart Association does not recommend that the public use this method in a situation where there is no medical supervision.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.
Forget about coughing — key to surviving a heart attack is obtaining proper medical assistance within a very limited window of opportunity. Once an acute myocardial infarction (AMI) has been diagnosed, speedy injection of thrombolytic agents to dissolve clots is of the utmost importance — the more quickly those drugs are delivered, the better the chances of survival are. It's a race against the clock.
Most patients who present with minor chest pains usually look healthy and show no signs of a heart attack. Electrocardiogram (ECG) results tell the story though, so be sure to insist upon one being performed if you've any doubts at all. Often mild heart attacks are left untreated and undetected because hospital staff mistake a heart attack for something more benign because the presenting symptoms are minor.
Rather than risk killing yourself with cough CPR, those experiencing a heart attack should heed the advice of physicians the world over — down a couple of Aspirin as an emergency remedy. Doctors believe that during the early stages of a heart attack, Aspirin — which is known to prevent blood platelets from sticking together — can prevent a clot from getting bigger. In 1991
Oh, and it probably makes a great deal of sense to chew the Aspirin before swallowing. The sooner it is dispersed by the stomach, the sooner it gets to where it is needed. During a heart attack, waiting for the enteric coating surrounding the pill to break down naturally could be a mistake.
In 1993 The American Heart Association began recommending a
In terms of the drama of it, swallowing an Aspirin seems quite a come-down from bravely trying to induce a perfectly timed coughing fit. Less flamboyant is better, though; Aspirin saves lives, whereas coughing might well cost them.
Barbara "from coughing to coffin?" Mikkelson
Last updated: 31 December 2005
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