Cure this Contagious Rumor: Coughing Won’t Fend Off a Heart Attack

Despite a contagious rumor, coughing doesn’t prevent a heart attack. An e-mail that spread around the world like a contagious disease a few years ago claimed that anyone who feels heart attack symptoms while alone should cough “repeatedly and very vigorously, repeating a breath about every two seconds…until help arrives, or (a normal heartbeat returns).”

Wrong, says the American Heart Association.

“It’s right up there with voodoo as far as I’m concerned,” says Dr. Cary Fishbein, a cardiologist with the Dayton Heart Center.

The coughing technique known as “cough CPR” has been used in hospitals by physicians to treat sudden irregular heartbeats in monitored patients during cardiac catheterization procedures. In this case, a responsive patient who develops a sudden irregular heartbeat could possibly maintain blood flow to the brain and remain conscious for a few seconds if they cough vigorously and forcefully while being directed by a physician.

But traditional CPR is not used to treat heart attack victims who remain conscious – but only if the heart attack if followed by cardiac arrest, the American Heart Association says.

What You Should Do in the Event of a Heart Attack

The American Heart Association encourages you to:

  1. Recognize the warning signs.
  2. Take immediate action, including calling 9-1-1.
  3. Begin CPR, using a combination of rescue breaths and chest compressions.
  4. Get early access to automated external defibrillation (AED).

The signs of sudden cardiac arrest are:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • Loss of responsiveness (no response to stimulation)
  • Absence of normal breathing

The best way to survive a heart attack is to avoid it altogether by getting early treatment for heart problems, Fishbein says. “If you think you might have heart disease, get checked out.”

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening.

  • Chest discomfort – Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and come back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath – This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort. But it can occur before the chest discomfort.
  • Other signs – These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If you or someone you’re with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, get help quickly (within five minutes). Call 9-1-1. Get to a hospital right away. Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment.