Since my heart attack, my friends and family like to forward me every heart-related email going around, usually with the subject line: “Have you seen this one yet?!?!” A particularly persistent one that just won’t go away is entitled “How to Survive a Heart Attack when Alone.” Have you seen this one yet? It recommends that people who think they are having a heart attack should start coughing, long, deeply and frequently. The email claims that coughing will improve blood circulation to the heart, keeping you alive until emergency services arrive.
Does this work?
In a word: NO! Here’s why:
Cardiologist Dr. Richard Cummins of Seattle explains that Cough CPR should be used only under medical supervision by a person about to lose consciousness, an indication of cardiac arrest. It can be dangerous for someone having a heart attack that does not result in cardiac arrest (i.e. most heart attacks). This kind of person should call 911 for help and then sit quietly until help arrives.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation, among others, continues to advise NOT to keep circulating this email. Instead, here’s what they recommend that you actually do.
If you are alone and think you are having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately for help.
Unless your own doctor has advised against it, chew one full-strength uncoated aspirin while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive. (Reminder: have a small container of these with you at all times, in your purse, in the car, everywhere!) And it’s a good idea to keep a list of your emergency contact numbers near the phone at all times.
The American Heart Association also reminds us that the best strategy is to be aware of the early warning signs for heart attack and cardiac arrest and respond to them by calling 911.
If you’re driving alone and you start having symptoms like chest pain or discomfort that starts to spread into your arm and up into your jaw (which is the scenario presented in the Cough CPR email), pull over immediately, put on your emergency flasher lights, call 911 or, if you don’t have a cell phone, try to flag down another motorist for help by leaning continuously on your car horn until you get help. And chew one full-strength aspirin.
Find out more about heart attack myths and treatment.
- How Does It Really Feel To Have A Heart Attack? Women Survivors Tell Their Stories
- The Myth of the “Hollywood Heart Attack” for Women
- Is That Chain E-Mail a Hoax? (Yes, Probably!) from my other site, The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics for the Easily Swayed
♥ Read the specifics of Cough CPR myth busting on Snopes.
Q: Have you been sent a copy of this internet chain letter?