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The Cardiologist's Wife - "Cough CPR" and Other Health Myths
Oct 08, 2018

Some of my friends have been seeing a post on social media lately about how to save yourself if you are alone and think you are experiencing a heart attack. The scenario goes as follows: you are alone, driving home after a hard, stressful day at work when you begin to experience chest pain that radiates down your arm and into your jaw. You begin to feel faint and you aren’t sure if you can make it to the hospital. What do you do? The post goes on to tell you to take several deep breathes and cough as hard as you can every 2 seconds without letting up until help arrives or the pains subsides. The post says the squeezing pressure keeps the blood circulating and helps the heart regain a normal rhythm.

First it is important to understand the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest as described above. Both are serious and require immediate medical care but a cardiac arrest can be fatal if help isn’t administered right away. Most people survive a heart attack though it may cause damage to the heart muscle. A heart attack occurs because a blood vessel in the heart becomes blocked, cutting off blood flow to an area of the heart. When you are having a heart attack you may experience any of the following symptoms: anxiety, sweatiness, shortness of breath, pressure or tightness in your chest, strong pain, a burning pain like heartburn, pain in your arm, jaw, back or shoulder. Someone should call 911 rather than attempt to drive the patient to the hospital as trained EMT’s can administer help right away. Certainly you should never try to drive yourself if you think you are having a heart attack.

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart goes into an abnormal rhythm and stops pumping blood effectively. The patient can’t breathe, the brain becomes deprived of oxygen and the patient passes out within seconds. Immediate help is necessary to keep the patient alive so someone must start CPR or use a defibrillator to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. A cardiac arrest may be caused by a heart attack or an electrical problem with the heart.

Coughing will not make any difference to someone having a heart attack. Better to dial 911, sit or lie down and try to remain calm. With a cardiac arrest, time is critical and coughing might work in theory but the truth is that you may pass out before you can save yourself. The American Heart Association does not recommend cough CPR but recommends people familiarize themselves with the symptoms of a heart attack and know how to perform CPR.

The cardiologist in my house has never heard of cough CPR and also recommends that you “Dial, don’t drive!”. In other words, dial 911 for your best chance of survival. After you have dialed 911, you can cough if you want.

While we are discussing social media myths, there is another post going around on social media that the flu shot can contribute to developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are no studies that conclusively link Alzheimer’s with the flu shot. This myth gained traction because of the preservative thimerosal which contains mercury and is found in some flu shots. Getting the flu can lead to dangerous complications and even death as happened to my brother in law when he was just in his early 50’s. If you are concerned about mercury, ask for a thimerosal free shot.

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