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Cough CPR Won’t Fend Off a Heart Attack

By Kathy Hubbard
Maybe you’ve seen the email or a Facebook posting. A friend of mine sent it to me as a potential subject for an article. It claims to be important information for everyone to know in the event that they have a heart attack while alone. Little did my friend know that the information was wrong, really wrong.
The email says that if “suddenly you start experiencing severe pain in your chest that starts to drag out into your arm and up into your jaw …you should start coughing repeatedly and 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.”
It’s attributed to Rochester Regional Health in New York. Their website says, “We can find no record that an article even resembling this was produced by Rochester General Hospital within the last 20 years. Furthermore, the medical information listed in the article cannot be verified by current medical literature and is in no way condoned by this hospital’s medical staff. Also, both The Mended Hearts, Inc., a support organization for heart patients, and the American Heart Association have said that this information should not be forwarded or used by anyone.”
Snopes, the rumor research gurus, said, “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 case.”
In an article published by the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Team, they say, “The real danger about the misinformation regarding so-called ‘cough CPR’ is that it could prevent heart attack victims from getting the life-saving help they need.”
In very specific situations cough CPR can help someone who is in cardiac arrest. Not someone having a heart attack. And, it’s important to note that it’s a technique that has to be taught by a medical professional, not by reading an instruction sheet. During some heart catheterization procedures the cardiologist may have the patient cough if they develop a sudden irregular heartbeat. This patient is not having a heart attack.
So, if you printed out that email and posted it on your fridge, take it down. Then, put up a reminder of the warning signs of a heart attack:
• Uncomfortable pressure, fullness or squeezing pain in the center of the chest.
• Discomfort or pain spreading beyond the chest to the shoulders, neck, jaw, teeth, or one or both arms, or occasionally the upper abdomen.
• Shortness of breath.
• Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting.
• Sweating
• Nausea
Remember that you most likely will not have all of these symptoms at the same time and that you may have warning signs hours, days or weeks in advance of a heart attack.
Then, memorize what you are supposed to do starting with calling 911. The Mayo Clinic says, “Don’t ignore or attempt to tough out the symptoms of a heart attack for more than five minutes.”
Don’t try to drive yourself to the hospital. That’d be an accident in the making. Plus, the emergency medical crews are specifically trained on how to treat heart attacks including how to administer medications that will not only make you more comfortable, but will most likely save your life.
After you call 911 chew and swallow an aspirin. That is, of course, if you aren’t allergic to them. Then, after unlocking your front door, sit down and rest while you wait for the EMS to arrive. Don’t run around the house trying to get chores finished.
If you’ve been prescribed nitroglycerin, take it as directed.
“Do not take anyone else’s nitroglycerin, because that could put you in more danger,” Mayo Clinic says.
“If you’re with a person who might be having a heart attack and he or she is unconscious, tell the 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher can instruct you in the proper procedures until help arrives,” they say.
I say, take a course in CPR. Classes are held at Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS the first Monday of every month from 4 to 6 p.m. You can register online at sandpointfire.com/cprfirstaid.asp.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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