Cough CPR: Life Saver or Myth?

Cardiologist weighs-in on claim

NANTICOKE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) -- Heart disease is the number one killer in Pennsylvania. It's also the main cause of a heart attack. While you may be trained in CPR to help someone who's having one, what if you're the one who needs help?

Many people are alone when they suffer a heart attack. You may have received a social media post circulating on the internet claiming you can cough your way into surviving one. But is it fact or fiction?

"I have heard of it I mean faintly, but yes I've heard of it." Nanticoke Fire Chief Kevin Hazleton says he is familiar with the online post about using Cough CPR to survive a heart attack when you're alone. He demonstrated what the claim instructs you to do: cough repeatedly and vigorously and take a deep breath between each cough every two seconds until help arrives or your heart is beating normally again. All that coughing and deep breathing proves to be a real workout. "Painful. It's painful," said Chief Hazleton.

But can it be a real life saver? "This is a myth. This is a myth," said Geisinger Cardiologist Sean George who added the cardiac CPR claim comes from a nugget of truth in a European study. "In some cases that coughing can increase blood flow to the brain very temporarily."

Dr. George says the thing about vigorously coughing during a cardiac episode, you may actually cause more harm. "If it's done at the wrong time in the heart cycle or done too forcefully in repetition you can actually decrease blood flow to the heart."

It doesn't mean you can't intervene if you think you're having a heart attack. Dr. George advises, "The first thing they should do is call for 911, call for help. The second thing is take an aspirin if you're able to." 

Both Dr. George and Chief Hazleton say while the Cough CPR claim may be filled with good intentions, it's important to not waste time when your life is on the line and every minute counts. "I've never heard anybody say well I coughed for five minutes before I called you. No. Don't waste the time. Call 911," said Chief Hazleton. He urges everyone to know the signs of a heart attack which include pain in your chest, your left arm and jaw. Dr. George recommends we all learn CPR. You can find courses offered near you through the American Red Cross.
 


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