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Health March 2018

All Ready to Believe Bad Information

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Heart trouble warnings include anxiety, chest discomfort, persistent cough, dizziness, unusual fatigue, nausea, pain in abdomen, rapid or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, sweating, swelling of feet, ankles, and severe unexplained weakness.

Francie, an intelligent, former teacher has credibility with me, so I read her email “Do CPR on Yourself” with interest. It said to respond to chest pain by “coughing repeatedly and vigorously, breathing deeply between coughs, getting oxygen into the lungs to squeeze the heart, and keep blood circulating.” The email finished by exhorting me to save lives by sending it to others.

My dad had a quadruple bypass so I wasted no time preparing to forward it to family.

About to hit “send,” I hesitated. Maybe the memory of my “smart guy” brother-in-law’s dismissive attitude toward “junk science” intruded.  He spent years in postdoctoral studies of DNA and thinks he knows more than anybody, which he does.

Yanking back my “send reflex,” I searched “doing CPR on yourself” in Google.

Whoops!

An American Heart Association article from 2014 opens with, “The AHA does not endorse ‘cough CPR,’ a procedure widely publicized on the Internet.” Snopes.com agrees with the AHA that the email “could potentially be harmful to someone experiencing a heart attack.”

Snopes says cough CPR is an actual procedure, only to be used under direction of medical personnel who understand the type of cardiac arrest a patient is experiencing, and the specific cough rhythm to employ. Without trained personnel, coughing could “turn a mild heart attack into a fatal one.”

O.K., jettison the coughing cure, but what should we do if we suspect heart problems?

  1. Chew on an aspirin. Snopes directs readers to The American Heart Association’s recommendation to get a 325mg aspirin tablet dispersed into the stomach as quickly as possible by chewing it. Aspirin is known to prevent blood platelets from sticking together and “prevent a clot from getting bigger.”  A follow-up study found people were not taking aspirin-chewing advice, losing “as many as 10,000 lives a year.” A 2015 Emergency Medicine Journal cautioned that only about half of the paramedics administered an aspirin dose on the way to the hospital. Looks like a reminder to take aspirin along with heart symptoms, is the email that should be circulating.

  2. If you are at home, conscious and suspect a cardiac problem, dial 911 – as  you chew an aspirin.

  3. Demand an electrocardiogram. Many people show no recognizable signs of heart trouble. Yet, they may be having mild heart attacks.

    Judith Graham of the New York Times blog, newoldage, warns that “silent heart attacks” with unrecognizable symptoms are more common than attention-grabbing heart attacks, yet “they’re equally deadly.” This is especially true for older people.

  4. So, what are some of the distinct and less obvious signs of heart attack? Indications differ by gender and many symptoms could be heart trouble or other ailments. I hope the following shortened list of “12 Heart Symptoms Never to Ignore”  from David Freeman’s Web MD article, encourages readers to read more on the subject. Heart trouble warnings include anxiety, chest discomfort, persistent cough, dizziness, unusual fatigue, nausea, pain in abdomen, rapid or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, sweating, swelling of feet, ankles, and severe unexplained weakness.

My family won’t get the “cough CPR” email and I’ll let Francie know about these findings. Her email took me from misleading information to an exploration of heart attack, the leading cause of death for Americans. It’s a complex subject, but I learned a simple lesson: Beware of medical advice arriving by email. Even clear reasonable messages from trusted sources need back-up research.

 

Carrie Luger Slayback, an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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