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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Coughing 'could stop heart deaths'
Heart attack patients
Well-timed coughs could save heart attack patients, doctors claim
Coughing hard at the first signs of a heart attack could save a patient's life, researchers claim.

Polish doctors said the pumping action caused by a deep cough would cause blood to be pushed through the body and to the brain.

They said regular coughing could help patients survive until the ambulance arrived.

But British experts said although there had been some evidence coughing could be effective, it was not conclusive.

It cannot be recommended as a first aid measure
Belinda Linden, British Heart Foundation
Every year one in a 1,000 people in the Western world die from a heart attack. In most cases, the attack is caused by a sudden problem with the heart's rhythm.

Tadeusz Petelenz of the Cardiological Foundation in Katowice, Poland, led a study in which 115 patients who had a high risk of having a cardiac arrest were trained to cough when they experienced sudden severe chest pains - the classic symptoms of an attack.

In all, the patients did so on 365 occasions. In 292 cases the symptoms disappeared and only 73 required medical attention.


Dr Petelenz told the European Society of Cardiology conference in Vienna that properly timed and performed coughs could allow the patient to maintain consciousness and even regain an effective heart beat.

He recommended high-risk patients should be taught how to cough effectively, starting with a single cough every one to two seconds in bouts of five coughs.

Some doctors already encourage patients to cough when they are receiving intensive heart treatment in hospital.

But Professor Leo Bossaert, ESC executive director, questioned whether it was practical to expect patients to treat themselves in this way at home.

And Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News Online: "There have been reports circulated suggesting that vigorous coughing during sudden severe chest pain - the classic symptoms of a heart attack - may help to restore or improve the circulation of blood, by maintaining the heart's normal electrical activity.

"This may be loosely based on reports of people who have used coughing to maintain some sort of cardiac output during cardiac arrest.

"At this time, the British Heart Foundation is not aware of any convincing evidence based on controlled studies which suggest that coughing vigorously would be of any benefit if you are suffering a heart attack.

"It cannot, therefore, be recommended as a first aid measure."

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