It's been a while since I wrote up a sceptical post about medical misinformation on Facebook but there's something that has cropped up on my news feed several times over the last few months and I feel it needs to be addressed. The piece in question regarding 'Cough CPR' allegedly began circulating as a chain e-mail and like the chain e-mail the Facebook version urges people to share the information in order to "save someone's life".
The piece begins by telling us that since many people are alone when they suffer a heart
attack, without help, the person whose heart is beating improperly and who begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing consciousness. It then goes on to give detailed instructions on how to perform cough CPR. In some versions, the advice has been that someone who thinks he or she is suffering a heart attack should repeatedly cough and go at once to a hospital, by car if necessary.
I hope after that last paragraph you are still reading because I don't want you to be one of those people passing that on. If a person, who is alone, believes they are suffering from a heart attack the FIRST thing they need to do is phone emergency services (and depending on your country ask for a cardiac ambulance, hell ask anyway!). If you are not allergic to aspirin (or are not under 16 or do not have any type of bleeding disorder) and have some nearby chew an aspirin. However do not get up and wander around the house looking for an aspirin. This may put unnecessary strain on your heart The British Heart Foundation says this, so don't sue me for giving medical advice! Now on that advice you can see that if you shouldn't be wandering around looking for an aspirin, then you definitely shouldn't be self-administrating cough CPR to yourself. Cough CPR may have it's place on rare occasions like settings such as the cardiac catheterization laboratory where patients are conscious and constantly monitored (for example, with an ECG machine). A nurse or physician is also present who can instruct and coach the patients to cough forcefully every one to three seconds during the initial seconds of a sudden arrhythmia. However a person on their own self-administering cough CPR runs the risk of exerting themselves which can result in cardiac arrest. Cough CPR is not taught on 'lay' persons CPR courses, or in First Response courses because it is generally not useful and can be dangerous in non-hospital settings.
An estimated 5,000 people die of heart attacks every year in Ireland so challenge the Cough CPR link if you see it, rather than sharing it.