American Heart Association
The American Heart Association does not endorse “cough CPR,” a procedure widely publicized on the internet.
During a sudden arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), a conscious, responsive person may be able to cough forcefully and repetitively to maintain enough blood flow to the brain to remain conscious for a few seconds until the arrhythmia is treated. This has been mislabeled “cough CPR,” although it’s not a form of traditional resuscitation.
Why isn’t “cough CPR” appropriate in CPR training courses?
“Cough CPR” should not be taught in lay-rescuer CPR courses because it’s generally not useful in the prehospital setting. In virtually all lay-rescuer CPR courses, the person’s unresponsiveness signals an emergency. Unresponsive victims can’t perform “cough CPR.”
Are there situations when “cough CPR” is appropriate?
“Cough CPR” may be a temporary measure in settings such as the cardiac catheterization laboratory where patients are conscious and constantly monitored (for example, with an ECG machine). A nurse or physician can instruct and coach the patients to cough forcefully every one to three seconds during the initial seconds of a sudden arrhythmia. But because it’s not effective in all patients, it shouldn’t delay definitive treatment.
The best strategy is to be aware of the warning signs for cardiac arrest – sudden loss of responsiveness and no normal breathing – and call 911.
British Heart Foundation
Could something called ‘cough CPR’ save my life?
I’ve recently read on the internet about something called ‘cough CPR’. The article claimed that if I have a heart attack and then do this, it could save my life. Is it true?
Senior Cardiac Nurse Christopher Allen says:
The absolute priority when you think you or someone else is having a heart attack is to call 999. This way, paramedics can assess and aid you, and you’ll get to hospital as fast as possible. There is no medical evidence to support ‘cough CPR’, which suggests you can help yourself by coughing vigorously if you think you’re having a heart attack and are alone.
A heart attack is when the blood supply to your heart muscle is interrupted; this is most commonly due to a blood clot.
A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest, when your heart stops pumping blood around your body. You would become unconscious, and without immediate CPR (chest compressions and rescue breaths), you would die.
If you are still conscious (and you would have to be to do ‘cough CPR’), then you are not in cardiac arrest and therefore CPR is not needed, but urgent medical help is vital.
The ‘cough CPR’ myth has been circulating the internet for a while now, especially on social media sites such as Facebook. If you come across it, please avoid spreading it any further and consider letting the person who posted it know that there’s no truth in it.
Meet the expert
Christopher Allen helps manage the BHF’s genetic information service and has extensive specialist experience of working in coronary care.