Constitutional Health Network:
This Heart Attack Myth Needs to Go!

If you’ve read even one article here at Constitutional Health, you know that I’m about as anti-establishment as it’s possible to be. I’ll never advise a drug if there’s a non-drug treatment or remedy available. I’ll never advise surgery if there’s any way around it. I’ll tell you that if you’re going to do one good thing for your health it’s to ask hard questions and don’t give up till you get answers. I think the average person is much too quick to jump on the medical bandwagon and swallow whatever their doctor recommends without asking any questions.

On the other hand, there are plenty of “alternative” treatments, products, and theories that I just can’t get behind. I’m a “show me the science” kind of guy and many facets of alternative medicine are backed by either shoddy science or no science at all. Others fly directly in the face of scientific fact. And as much as I like to point out how often science changes its mind about some topics, that doesn’t mean that there are no such things as scientific facts—there are. It just means that we need to take any claims of “settled science” with a grain of salt. Or a tablespoon.

Being skeptical isn’t a license to ignore the facts

I like to say that the science is never “settled,” but some scientific facts really are incontrovertible. Our hearts pump blood through our veins and arteries. This is a scientific fact. Nothing can change it. Arteries carry blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins carry it back. These too are unalterable scientific facts.

Skeletal muscles move bones. Bones contain calcium. Ligaments connect bone to bone—these are all scientific facts, and no amount of discussion will change them. So, while I’m all about being open-minded when it comes to alternative medicine and self-treatment, I don’t want us to be so open-minded that our brains fall out.

Each day I readI don’t want to say “crazy,” so let me instead say “misguided”health ideas that directly contradict the scientific facts. Some of them are flat-out false advertising claims designed to sell products that don’t work. But most of them are a type of “urban legend.” They follow the format of the good old-fashioned chain mail letter: they show up in your email inbox or on your Facebook and they urge you to share them with as many people as possible.

To people who aren’t well-versed in science, many of these “chain letters” sound logical. And so they get passed on. Soon social media is bubbling over with incorrect and even dangerous health advice, and no matter how many better-informed voices try to set the record straight, they persist.

Often they’re simply useless advice. However, some of these urban legends are downright hazardous to your health. And one of the worst of these is the idea that you can save yourself from a heart attack by “cough CPR.”

Can you really save yourself from a heart attack by…coughing?

This idea has been floating around the internet almost as long as there has been an internet. The story goes like this: if you think you’re having a heart attack and you’re all alone, then deep, rhythmic coughs can keep your blood circulating and keep you conscious till you can call for help. The idea is that the pressure caused by coughing acts in the same way as CPR—that it squeezes your heart and keeps it beating till help arrives.

I have to say: I wonder how many people this “advice” has killed. Because there are so many things wrong with it that I don’t even know where to start.

First of all: if you’re having a heart attack, CPR is the wrong thing to do. During a heart attack, blood flow is cut off to part of your heart and heart muscle is dying. However, that doesn’t mean your heart has stopped beating. During most heart attacks, the heart has to work harder but it keeps right on beating. CPR in this case might very well bring on the very thing you’re trying to avoid—cardiac arrest. And there’s where the problem with the “cough CPR” idea lies.

The “cough CPR” story seems to be well-meant advice put out there by people who simply don’t know the difference between a heart attack—where some heart muscle dies but the heart keeps beating—and cardiac arrest, where the heart suddenly stops beating. Instead they seem to have rolled both conditions into one big ball of “something is wrong with your heart, so you must need CPR”—which is exactly wrong.

Doing CPR on a beating heart can seriously injure the heart and even kill the person. And even in cases of cardiac arrest the purpose of CPR is not, contrary to popular belief, to restart the heart.That takes electricity because the heart is an electric organ. It’s to keep blood flowing to the brain till help arrives and the heart can be shocked back into a normal rhythm and resume beating.

Once again, you don’t do CPR on a beating heart--not even “cough CPR.” CPR is not the right thing to do for a heart attack—unless the person’s heart has actually stopped beating.

Here’s what you REALLY need to do if you think you’re having a heart attack

The absolute most important thing you can do if you think you’re having a heart attack is simple: call 9-1-1. I can’t stress it enough. For every minute treatment is delayed, more of your heart muscle dies. If you have the symptoms of a heart attack, stop whatever you’re doing and call 9-1-1. Tell them you’re having a heart attack and you need help right now.

If you’re driving, stop immediately—don’t try to make it to the hospital on your own. Pull over and call for help. And if you’re home alone, use your phone instead of getting in your car and driving to the hospital. If you are having a heart attack you could very well end up in a crash that could not only injure you even worse than the heart attack itself, but hurt or kill other drivers too. So pick up the phone, stay calm, and call for an ambulance.

And once you’ve made the call, grab an aspirin and chew it.

Studies have shown that aspirin can lessen the severity of a heart attack significantly. Here’s why: Heart attacks are most often caused by a blood clot in one of the vessels leading to your heart, and aspirin helps dissolve blood clots. Chewing the aspirin rather than swallowing it with water gets it into your bloodstream faster—in as little as five minutes. And when you’re having a heart attack, seconds count. A prompt call to 9-1-1 followed by an aspirin might be the difference between a minor heart attack and a major one. It could even save your life.

What won’t save your life, however, is coughing.

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