Can you really cough away a heart attack? Hoax or Real?

Is the Self CPR advise going around the internet Real? Is it true or is it false? The answer could be the difference between life and death.

For years now, there has been an email out there that has gone around the internet millions of times. It is about how a person that is suffering a heart attack can perform a type of “self CPR” that can save their life. The email contains several pieces of misinformation however, the most significant being that if the person coughs repeatedly and “very vigorously,” it will help his blood continue to circulate. The idea is that the pressure of vigorous coughing supposedly helps one to “regain a normal heart rhythm,” and the effect gives the person time to reach a hospital.

The problem with this approach is that it’s ineffective at treating heart attacks, and a person’s priority upon noticing heart attack symptoms should be calling 911, not performing self CPR.

How Heart Attacks and Cardiac Arrests Work

The writer of the email clearly didn’t have a full understanding of heart attacks. The email mentions that with a heart attack, the person’s heart is beating improperly, which will lead to the person feeling faint and losing consciousness in approximately 10 seconds. An irregular heartbeat and loss of consciousness would be a sign of cardiac arrest, not a heart attack. A heart attack is when blood flow ceases to, at least one, part of the heart, whereas a cardiac arrest is when the heart doesn’t contract properly and eventually stops beating.

Symptoms of a heart attack can vary, but it’s unlikely to cause sudden unconsciousness, so there’s no need to attempt self CPR by coughing. Instead, if a person experiences any of the common heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, heavy fatigue or nausea, he should call 911 and get to the hospital right away for treatment. Taking aspirin is a good idea, but here too, seeking emergency treatment should also be the first priority.

The procedure for handling cardiac arrest is the same, the person should call 911 and get to a hospital the moment they notices symptoms. Cardiac arrest symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and an irregular heartbeat. While time is of the essence whether dealing with a heart attack or cardiac arrest, it’s even more important with cardiac arrest, as it can lead to death quickly left untreated.

CPR Performed by a Bystander Can Help

If a person becomes unconscious due to cardiac arrest, then CPR can make a huge difference in terms of his survival. Self CPR from coughing won’t help and certainly isn’t of use once a person loses consciousness because they won’t be able to cough, anyway. If there is a bystander available to perform CPR, that can keep oxygen going to the brain during the crucial time before an ambulance arrives. Of all the body’s organs, the brain is the one that is most vulnerable to oxygen deprivation, and performing CPR can keep oxygen flowing. The standard treatment for cardiac arrest is using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on the person. The AED delivers an electric shock to the heart which causes it to restart and begin beating normally again.

Origins of the Self CPR Hoax

So, the question is……is “self CPR” real?” Clearly, the answer is a resounding… NO. The email is a hoax and the social media attention this hoax has received has taken on a life of its own. So, where did this idea come from?

There technically is such a thing as cough CPR. Nurses or doctors sometimes have patients perform cough CPR when patients are having cardiac catheterization and an irregular heartbeat occurs. The nurse or doctor will have the patient cough hard every couple seconds to remain conscious during the beginning of treatment. However, this does not always work, and it’s only intended to keep the patient conscious and has no affect at all on the irregular heartbeat.

A Better Way to Keep the Heart Healthy

The best thing a person can do when it comes to symptoms of heart attack is take preventative measures to avoid them in the first place. That means living a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and the right diet. If a person is concerned about the possibility of heart disease, they should visit a doctor for a thorough checkup, especially if there is a family history of heart disease.

Not every heart attack is preventable however, so people also need to know the warning signs. Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and calling 911 gives everyone the best chance of survival.