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Coughing vigorously can save you from a heart attack: a dangerous myth

crise cardiaque For a while now, information has been circulating on social networks to the effect that it may be possible to «survive a heart attack when alone» by breathing deeply for two seconds then coughing vigorously, alternating these actions until help arrives, or until your heart starts to beat normally again. Those who perpetuate this ‘advice’, of which there are several versions, liken it to CPR – it is meant to provide oxygen to the lungs and massage the heart.

Is this sound advice?

As you might imagine, there is no medical evidence to support the benefits of ‘cough CPR’. A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the coronary artery supplying blood to the heart, usually from a clot. This interruption in blood flow destroys part of the heart muscle which is then unable to contract properly (causing the first symptoms of a heart attack), and if nothing is done to correct it, the heart may stop beating altogether.

Coughing vigorously will do nothing to prevent a fatal outcome. On the contrary, it could increase the risk of death since it uses additional oxygen to perform what is a pointless action. What needs to happen is for the artery to be unblocked as quickly as possible, and only the emergency services can do this.

It’s not clear how this rumour has spread. Perhaps those who started it confused a heart attack with a specific form of arrhythmia called supra-ventricular cardiac arrhythmia in which coughing may sometimes restore the heart rate.
If you recognise any of the typical heart attack symptoms listed below, it’s important to ring for an ambulance, lie still and stay as calm as possible:
    • Difficulty breathing;
    • Shortness of breath;
    • Red face and clammy skin;
    • Breaking out in a sweat;
    • Pain or sensation of pressure in the chest;
    • Sudden feeling of indigestion;
    • Nausea or vomiting;
    • Weakness and dizziness;
    • Shock.
While these symptoms are easily recognisable, there are unfortunately also ‘silent’ heart attacks, which mainly affect diabetics, where no symptoms are felt. Either way, more than 100,000 French people are affected by a heart attack each year, with almost 15% of cases proving fatal. Prevention should therefore be an urgent priority, particularly for those individuals who have risk factors such as smoking, excess weight, alcohol consumption, inactivity, an unhealthy diet and advanced age. Regular exercise and good nutrition are the two most effective methods of prevention: of particular benefit are omega-3 fatty acids1,2 (found abundantly in oily fish or in natural supplements such as Super DHA) and antioxidants (rich sources of which include fruits and vegetables, or well-researched supplements such as Cardio-Clear™ and Cardio Booster). To sum up then, if you’re going to share an article on life-threatening heart attacks, make sure it’s this one!

Sources :
1- Bucher HC, Hengstler P, et al. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med. 2002 Mar;112(4):298-304.
2- Hooper L, Thompson RL, et al. Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review. BMJ. 2006 Apr 1;332(7544):752-60. Review.
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