Can You Cough Away a Heart Attack?

Cough CPR buzz creates confusion, delays medical help
How to Stop ‘Mystery’ Coughs That Won't Quit

The real danger about the misinformation regarding so-called “cough CPR” is that it could prevent heart attack victims from getting the life-saving help they need.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Social media posts on the Internet claim that by coughing vigorously when you have a heart attack, you can keep yourself from passing out, theoretically saving yourself until your heart starts beating normally again.

The facts

Heart attacks are not the same thing as cardiac arrest. Cardiac surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD, says that social media-based information about cough CPR misleads readers. “This confuses heart attack and sudden cardiac death. They are two different things.”

Heart attacks occur when the heart’s oxygen supply gets cut off, which is usually caused by blockages in the cardiac arteries that feed the heart oxygen-rich blood.

When you have a heart attack, tissue in the heart can die. However, your heart usually keeps on beating. Cough CPR is ineffective for heart attacks.

Advertising Policy

During cardiac arrest, your heart suddenly stops beating. Serious irregularity in the heartbeat (arrhythmia) can cause this.

Cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD, says, “Cough CPR is an effective way to maintain circulation for a minute or two following cardiac arrest.” However, it is “not useful in a patient with a heart attack and shouldn’t delay calling 911.”

When cardiac arrest occurs, unconsciousness and death follow swiftly. Defibrillation is the only way to reliably reset the heart once it has suffered a fatal arrhythmia.

If you see someone collapse following cardiac arrest, call 911 immediately. You can administer approved CPR techniques to keep oxygen circulating to the victim’s brain until medical help arrives.

Advertising Policy

Cough CPR’s limited use

Coughing violently physically forces blood from the chest up to the brain because of the pressure exerted from the cough. In a clinical setting, patients might be told to cough vigorously during testing, if healthcare professionals detect specific problems.

Cough CPR is not useful outside of a hospital setting. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack should immediately call 911. Anyone who loses consciousness following cardiac arrest cannot cough, or even breathe, and needs emergency help.

Anyone witnessing a person having a heart attack should immediately call 911, or perform approved CPR rescue while a second bystander calls 911. Dr. Gillinov stresses, “The most important advice to give is: If you get chest pain or feel faint or feel an irregular heartbeat, call 911.”

Advertising Policy