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#HealthMyth: Will Coughing Save You From A Heart Attack? #NOT LIKELY

Photo Credit: Medical News Today 3 mins read

CLAIM: A viral facebook post claims that heart victims should “help themselves by coughing repeatedly” to save their life

CONCLUSION: FALSE

A viral facebook post claims that heart victims should “help themselves by coughing repeatedly” to save their life. This is FALSE.

FIRST, WHAT’S A HEART ATTACK?

Heart attack (myocardial infarction) is always confused for a cardiac arrest, although both are life-threatening medical emergencies.

A heart attack results from reduced blood supply to a particular part of the heart, often from the blockage of one of the  blood vessels leading to the heart, creating an area of less oxygen supply (known as ischaemia). While a cardiac arrest (properly called sudden cardiac death) involves a sudden stop of the beating of the heart. This is a very important distinction because the heart does not stop beating during a heart attack.

The process leading to a precise heart attack may have begun over a long time (because of risk factors, primarily obesity, unhealthy eating and prolonged inactivity); ranging from hours to weeks to even years, with warning signs to a person such as difficulty in breathing, chest pain, and getting tired easily.

Interestingly, a heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest, especially for persons recovering from a heart attack, and after a heart attack one is more at risk of having a cardiac arrest. This link is so close that half of cardiac arrests are caused by heart attacks. Also, cardiac arrests occurring during heart attacks can tip one into loss of consciousness easier and sudden death, if help does not come on time.

So, having said this, can one really survive a heart attack by coughing?

Don’t forget that a heart attack is not the same as cardiac (see above). A study by LoMauro and Aliverti  provides new information regarding the effects of coughing on blood flow.

The authors found that in healthy participants, deep, vigorous coughing can result in measurable “fluctuations in intrathoracic and intra-abdominal pressure which displaces significant volumes of blood from the thorax via the thoracic and the abdominal pump mechanisms”.

This means that coughing hard can push more blood from the heart and lungs to reach certain organ areas, simply put.

Although this is a good mechanism by which blood supply to certain organs might be maintained in circumstances such as during unstable cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), the authors are careful not to advocate for the use of ‘cough resuscitation’. 

Besides, there’s only how many ‘coughs’ a person who has only 10 seconds to live (as the claim suggests), can let out!

Furthermore, in response to this message, the American Heart Association (AHA) does not endorse what has now been termed ‘cough CPR’, stating that it is “not useful for unresponsive victims and should not be taught to lay rescuers”.

This is because although ‘cough CPR’ is used, it is ONLY in the setting of cardiac catheterization, a medical procedure on the heart, where patients are conscious and constantly monitored (for example, with an ECG machine) and a nurse and physician are also present to instruct and coach the patients to cough when appropriate. This, therefore, thoroughly eliminates the idea of  practising this technique alone to supposedly ‘survive a heart attack’. 

Instead what is advised, as per the UK Resuscitation Council, is that one should follow the procedures below for a chance of  actually surviving a heart attack –

  • Call for help
  • Chew one regular-strength aspirin -300mg (or four low-dose 75-mg aspirin)
  • Lie down

The AHA further recommends knowing the warning signs which include:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty in breathing
  • and undue tiredness, for heart attack

and:

  • sudden loss of responsiveness
  • and abnormal breathing, for a cardiac arrest.

In fact, the Resuscitation Journal published by Elsvier, Dr. Samuel P. Trethewey of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK, notes that this is a message that has been in circulation for about 20 years now. It has come in many forms from emails, messages and indeed this current Facebook post once again. But this is all to no end as the advice has been refuted by reputable organisations, experts and medical healthcare professionals. 

 

Note: The best thing to do in a suspected heart attack or cardiac arrest is to call for help.

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