Disregard that internet chain letter about “Cough CPR”

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

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.

See also:


♥   Read the specifics of Cough CPR myth busting on Snopes.

Q: Have you been sent a copy of this internet chain letter?


10 thoughts on “Disregard that internet chain letter about “Cough CPR”

  1. I just received one from a family member. She circulated throughout our family webpage. She thinks it is a great idea. My brother who is a general practitioner thinks the same. I wrote many emails between them. They would not believe me. How can I convince them it is a hoax? They are all hard headed to me.


  2. Thank you for posting this. I’m a heart attack survivor and you would not believe the number of people who think they are being helpful by forwarding that nonsense.

    As for the irresponsible people at Prevention magazine for perpetrating the hoax, shame on them.


  3. It amazes me how otherwise apparently intelligent people will automatically forward on the weirdest emails about MEDICAL TOPICS without double checking the facts. Thanks for reminding these people to STOP doing this!


  4. This is good to know. I get SO MANY of these chain emails and it’s sometimes hard to tell which are the useless ones and which make some sense. Thanks for helping to show us the difference. I got one recently from John Hopkins which I figured must be the real deal until somebody pointed out that the famous hospital is JOHNS Hopkins, not John. Best advice might just be to STOP forwarding all emails to your friends.


  5. Oh boy – I just forwarded on this cough CPR email yesterday morning to everybody in my Address Book (before I read this of course). I’m going to now forward a link to this article today with a sheepish little “woooops!” note. Good advice to do a little research before you hit the FORWARD button. THANX for this reminder to be more astute!


  6. Amen! Thanks for helping to clear this up! This is a perfect example of how a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A snippet of truth (being instructed to cough by trained emergency personnel) somehow expands into a big fat mistake.


  7. Can I please make one more suggestion? If any of your readers are ever tempted to forward ANY email chain letter, cardiac or not, please fight that urge. No more links to cutesie poo kitten YouTube movies. No painfully awful jokes. No hearts and flowers and rainbow messages to your closest and dearest online friends asking others to forward it on to 10 of their closest and dearest online friends.

    If somebody does send you any medical topics urging you to forward them on, don’t just hit “Forward”. Do a bit of online homework first (Snopes is an excellent resource for checking out those urban legends).

    It used to be that a chain letter knew its rightful place (at the bottom of the correspondence food chain). Let’s keep it down there.

    Love your site, Carolyn!


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