E-mail Alert: "Cough CPR"
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | March 4, 2003

The e-mail begins "This one is serious..." It describes a person with the symptoms of a heart attack: chest pain that radiates up to the jaw and down the left arm. The e-mail then proceeds to tell you how to survive a heart attack by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on yourself by coughing repeatedly every two seconds until either help arrives or you feel your heart go back into normal rhythm. Sounds good, doesn't it? It would be even nicer if it were true. Unfortunately, it isn't.

The American Heart Association (AHA) doesn't endorse this procedure. On their website (www.americanheart.org), they state that "Cough CPR" is not taught in Basic Life Support nor is it found in their curriculum. The AHA advises that if you feel like you're having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you're in your car and you don't have a cell phone, stop the car and get the attention of a passing motorist--clutch your chest to indicate what's wrong. The most important thing is to get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Another problem is the name. CPR is performed only on people whose heart and lungs have stopped working--and if you can cough, your heart's still working. There is no scenario that can allow people to do CPR on themselves by coughing or anything else.

Like most e-mails that achieve urban legend status, this one has a shred of truth in it. There is a procedure during heart catheterizations in which the patient coughs forcefully if an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) develops. But the patient has an electrocardiograph (ECG) running and the physician is there to administer medications to correct the arrhythmia if the coughing doesn't work. There is no scenario that can allow a person to correct his or her arrhythmias by coughing or anything else without the guidance of a physician.

The problem with these types of e-mails is that they sound so convincing. Who wouldn't be frightened if you were alone and thought you were having a heart attack? You'd want to do all you could. But most e-mails like this have one purpose; to have you forward it to as many people as possible. The most important advice they could have given if "Cough CPR" really existed is this: even if you are able to get your heart rhythm normalized, you should immediately head to the hospital because it can, and very likely will, happen again.
BBBOnLine Reliability Seal © 2011 Better Life Unlimited™
A division of Better Life Institute © (BLI, Inc.)
 Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
SecurityMetrics Credit Card Safe