Can Coughing Hard Help During A Heart Attack?

It all began with an email doing the rounds on the Internet claiming that a person who experiences the symptoms of a heart attack should repeatedly cough very vigorously, repeating a breath about every two seconds until help arrives. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to your heart muscle is interrupted, most often because of a blood clot.

While some experts suggest that this coughing method is a hoax and will not help prevent a heart attack, others say that it can potentially save your life. Here’s the low-down on the facts and scientific data about this technique.


What Is Cough-CPR (C-CPR)?

C-CPR is used by doctors to treat irregular heartbeats in monitored patients

The coughing technique is called as cough-CPR (cough-cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and is used in hospitals by physicians to treat sudden irregular heartbeats in monitored patients during cardiac catheterization procedures.


A responsive patient, who develops a sudden irregular heartbeat, can maintain blood flow to the brain and remain conscious for a few seconds by coughing vigorously and forcefully while being directed by a physician. According to the American Heart Association, traditional CPR is not used to treat heart attack victims who remain conscious, but only if the heart attack is followed by cardiac arrest.

During a sudden arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), a conscious, responsive person can ensure adequate blood flow to the brain and remain conscious for a few seconds until the arrhythmia is treated by coughing forcefully and repetitively. Forceful coughs help increase the pressure in the chest and maintain blood flow. But, this method has been incorrectly labeled as “cough-CPR” and it’s not a type of traditional CPR.1


What Studies Say

C-CPR can help maintain blood flow and is effective in emergencies

Many studies have been conducted using the cough-CPR method to evaluate the effectiveness of this technique. According to one study, a deep and rhythmic forceful cough repeated 30-60 times per minute, can be an effective resuscitative technique during emergencies.


This study provided evidence on the effectiveness of cough-CPR to maintain adequate systemic arterial blood pressure and consciousness during malignant ventricular arrhythmias. It concluded that cough-CPR is useful in maintaining patient stability while definitive therapy for the malignant ventricular arrhythmia is administered.2

In another study, a patient with an acute anterior myocardial infarction (MI), commonly called as a heart attack, and ventricular fibrillation was resuscitated after C-CPR was administered in the emergency department. This study demonstrated that cough-CPR in witnessed dysrhythmias can alleviate this problem and it can also reduce the morbidity of resuscitations.3


But A Few Experts Think Otherwise

Some experts claim that C-CPR can help save lives and keep the heart pumping until medical help arrives

Some experts differ in their opinion. According to experts at the British Heart Foundation, this technique is a hoax. A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest when the heart stops pumping blood. This can make the person unconscious and without immediate CPR (chest compressions and rescue breaths), they can die. But, if the person is still conscious, then they do not have a cardiac arrest, in which case a CPR is not required. But, urgent medical help is crucial.4


But, Tadeusz K. Petelenz, a Polish cardiologist, is campaigning to convince other heart specialists about the effectiveness of a C-CPR. He says that C-CPR can keep the heart functioning until help arrives. The mechanical action of a cough acts as a DIY CPR that provides the necessary thumps to the chest, which stimulate electrical activity in the heart and keep it beating.

Things To Do Before Medical Help Arrives

The first thing to do is to call 911 and then assist the person with CPR


Some immediate things that you do, including calling 911, can help save a person’s life. Here’s what you must do.

  • Calm the person down and make them sit or lie down.
  • Loosen any tight clothing.
  • If the person is not allergic to aspirin, make them chew and swallow a baby aspirin. Chewing it is more effective and works faster than swallowing it whole.
  • If the person stops breathing, you or a qualified person should perform CPR immediately. If you don’t know CPR, the 911 operator can help you until the paramedics arrive.