Why cough cpr is ineffective and what to do instead

Have you seen this circulating on Social Media? If you haven’t – here’s the gist of it circa 1999:

This one is serious… Let’s say it’s 4:17 p.m. and you’re driving home, (alone of course) after an unusually hard day on the job. Not only was the work load extraordinarily heavy, you also had a disagreement with your boss, and no matter how hard you tried he just wouldn’t see your side of the situation. You’re really upset and the more you think about it the more up tight you become.

All of a sudden you start experiencing severe pain in your chest that starts to radiate 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.

What can you do? You’ve been trained in CPR but the guy that taught the course neglected to tell you how to perform it on yourself.


Since many people are alone when they suffer a heart attack, this article seemed in order. Without help the person whose heart stops beating properly 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 phone and, between breaths, call for help.

Tell as many other people as possible about this, it could save their lives! A cardiologist says If everyone who gets this mail sends it to 10 people, you can bet that we’ll save at least one life.

In actual fact, it’s far more helpful not to share this as it’s a dangerous myth that can delay getting medical help and confuse priorities for a casualty having a heart attack, thus putting them at greater risk.

What’s wrong with it?

If you’re having a heart attack, that means one or more of your coronary arteries is blocked and part of the heart muscle will begin to die from lack of oxygen supply without medical help. That help consists of surgery and / or specific drugs. However, your heart will usually continue to beat, you’ll usually remain conscious.

Now for Cardiac Arrests; even though a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest, they’re two separate events. As we said above, in a heart attack it’s likely your heart is still beating and you’re conscious and aware of what’s happening.

In cardiac arrest, the heart is no longer adequately performing its job as a pump and you are definitely unresponsive (not conscious). Cardiac = heart, Arrest = to stop.
You wouldn’t need CPR during a heart attack but you would need it in cardiac arrest – when you’d be unresponsive and obviously unable to cough.

There is no medical evidence to support “cough CPR”, which suggests you can help yourself by coughing vigorously if you think you’re having a heart attack and are alone.
— British Heart Foundation

The American Heart Association does not endorse “cough CPR,” a coughing procedure widely publicized on the Internet… “cough CPR” is not useful for unresponsive victims and should not be taught to lay rescuers.
— American Heart Association

Where did it originate from?

It’s attributed to emails that started in 1999.

It may be based on isolated emergencies “in settings such as the cardiac catheterizatio laboratory where patients are conscious and constantly monitored. A nurse or physician is also present who can instruct and coach the patients to cough forcefully every one to three seconds during the initial seconds of a sudden arrhythmia.“ (American Heart Association). Such as in the work of Dr. Tadeusz Petelenz of the Silesian Medical Academy in Katowice Province who claims to have successfully guided certain patients in the procedure, but his results have not been independently confirmed. Regardless, there’s not a single medical body who endorses or recommends “cough CPR” for first aid.

How would I know if I was having a heart attack?

No two heart attacks present the same way but common symptoms can be:

  • Pain/discomfort around the chest that spreads to the back/stomach/jaw/arm
  • Nausea, vomiting, sweating, dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Women’s heart attacks can appear differently and a general feeling of being unwell or lethargic can also be an indicator of a heart attack when accompanied by chest pain or discomfort.

What’s the right thing to do if I’m having a heart attack alone?

Stop driving (if you’re in the situation above). Call 999 immediately, sit comfortably and await medical help. You could also chew 300mg aspirin if you had it (chewing helps the aspirin get rapidly into your bloodstream).

People do survive heart attacks but it’s through recognition and getting the right help. People do survive cardiac arrests when those nearby know good CPR and there’s an AED and medical help on the way.

Medical guidance via the internet should only come from trusted authorities who are recognised as leading experts in their field, like the British Heart Foundation and American Heart Association above.

In short, please don’t share any posts or emails about “Cough CPR” and perhaps even consider letting the person who shares it know that it’s wrong advice, to stop misinformation spreading.

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