Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cough It Up

If your drum isn't giving you a steady beat, start coughing. Cough during your next heart palpitation episode. The force of the cough will sometimes get a heart back on its regular track, says Robert March, M.D., associate professor of cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. A good cough can break the pattern of the palpitation.

[I know that I instinctively start to cough when I start to experience them. My husband always knows when I'm getting them because I'll start coughing abruptly. And forget about having time to cover my mouth with my sleeve. Ha!]

Please don't confuse this with "cough CPR" or the attempt of a conscious person to forcefully start coughing to maintain blood flow to the brain during a heart attack. Coughing to alleviate heart palpitations is only recommended during brief arrhythmia.

From the American Heart Association website (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4535):

The American Heart Association does not endorse "cough CPR," a coughing procedure widely publicized on the Internet. As noted in the 2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care, the American Heart Association DOES NOT TEACH THIS AS PART OF THE CORE CURRICULUM IN ANY COURSE.

During a sudden arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), it may be possible for a conscious, responsive person to cough forcefully and maintain enough blood flow to the brain to remain conscious for a few seconds until the arrhythmia disappears or is treated. Blood flow is maintained by increased pressure in the chest that occurs during forceful coughs. This has been mislabeled "cough CPR," although it's not a form of traditional resuscitation.
Why isn't "cough CPR" appropriate in CPR training courses?
"Cough CPR" should not be routinely taught in lay-rescuer CPR courses, because it would complicate teaching traditional CPR. It would add information that's not generally useful in the prehospital setting. In virtually all lay-rescuer CPR courses, the finding that signals an emergency is the victim's unresponsiveness. This signals the rescuer to begin the "A, B, C's" of CPR. Unresponsive victims will not be able to perform "cough CPR."
Are there situations when "cough CPR" is appropriate?
This coughing technique to maintain blood flow during brief arrhythmias has been useful in the hospital, particularly during cardiac catheterization. In such cases the patient's ECG is monitored continuously, and a physician is present.
During cardiac catheterization, patients may develop sudden arrhythmias. If a life-threatening arrhythmia is detected within the first 10 to 15 seconds and before the patient loses consciousness, a physician or nurse may tell the patient to cough. Repeated, forceful coughing can help the person stay conscious until the arrhythmia disappears or is treated.
Therefore, the usefulness of "cough CPR" is generally limited to monitored patients with a witnessed arrest in the hospital setting.
AHA Recommendation
The best strategy is to be aware of the early warning signs for heart attack and cardiac arrest and respond to them by calling 9-1-1. If you're driving alone and you start having severe chest pain or discomfort that starts to spread into your arm and up into your jaw (the scenario presented in the Internet article), pull over and flag down another motorist for help or phone 9-1-1 on a cellular telephone.