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Classification and external resources
Abdominal thrusts3.jpg
A demonstration of abdominal thrusts on a person showing signs of choking
ICD-10F41.0, R06.8, T17, W78-W80
ICD-9784.9, 933.1
  (Redirected from Heimlich Maneuver)
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"Chocking" redirects here. For the mechanical tool, see Wheel chock.
For the act of compressing someone's neck, see Strangling.
Classification and external resources
Abdominal thrusts3.jpg
A demonstration of abdominal thrusts on a person showing signs of choking
ICD-10F41.0, R06.8, T17, W78-W80
ICD-9784.9, 933.1

Choking is the mechanical obstruction of the flow of air from the environment into the lungs. Choking prevents breathing, and can be partial or complete, with partial choking allowing some, although inadequate, flow of air into the lungs. Prolonged or complete choking results in asphyxia which leads to anoxia and is potentially fatal. Oxygen stored in the blood and lungs keep the victim alive for several minutes after breathing is stopped completely.[1]

Choking can be caused by:

Symptoms and signs[edit]


The type of choking most commonly recognized as such by the public is the lodging of foreign objects (also known as foreign bodies, but consisting of any object which comes from outside the body itself, including food, toys or household objects) in the airway.[2]

This type of choking is often suffered by small children, who are unable to appreciate the hazard inherent in putting small objects in their mouth.[3] In adults, it mostly occurs while the patient is eating. In one study, peanuts were the most common obstruction.[4]


The Heimlich Helper, a device used to self-administer the Heimlich.

Choking can be treated with a number of different procedures, with both basic techniques available for first aiders and more advanced techniques available for health professionals. In the United States, members of the public commonly assume that abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver, are the correct procedure for choking, due to widespread promotion of this technique in the past, including recommendations from the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. People elsewhere also often assume this, due in part to widespread use of this technique in movies.[5]

Most modern protocols, including those of the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross, recommend several stages, designed to apply increasingly more pressure. The Red Cross changed their recommendation in 2006, ending their promotion of abdominal thrusts as the primary treatment for choking.[6]

The key stages in most modern protocols include:

Encouraging the victim to cough[edit]

This stage was introduced in many protocols as it was found that many people were too quick to undertake potentially dangerous interventions, such as abdominal thrusts, for items which could have been dislodged without intervention. Also, if the choking is caused by an irritating substance rather than an obstructing one, and if conscious, the patient should be allowed to drink water on their own to try to clear the throat. Since the airway is already closed, there is very little danger of water entering the lungs. Coughing is normal after most of the irritant has cleared, and at this point the patient will probably refuse any additional water for a short time.

Back blows[edit]

The majority of protocols now advocate the use of hard blows with the heel of the hand on the upper back of the victim. The number to be used varies by training organization, but is usually between five and twenty. For example, the Mayo Clinic recommends five blows between the shoulder blades.[7]

The back slap is designed to use percussion to create pressure behind the blockage, assisting the patient in dislodging the article. In some cases the physical vibration of the action may also be enough to cause movement of the article sufficient to allow clearance of the airway.

Almost all protocols give back slaps as a technique to be used before potentially damaging interventions such as abdominal thrusts.[8][9] Henry Heimlich, noted for promulgating abdominal thrusts, claimed that back slaps were proven to cause death by lodging foreign objects into the windpipe.[10] The 1982 Yale study by Day, DuBois, and Crelin that "persuaded the American Heart Association to stop recommending back blows for dealing with choking...was partially funded by Heimlich's own foundation."[11] According to Roger White MD of the Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association (AHA), "There was never any science here. Heimlich overpowered science all along the way with his slick tactics and intimidation, and everyone, including us at the AHA, caved in."[12]

Abdominal thrusts[edit]

Abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver (after Henry Heimlich), can dislodge foreign bodies from the airway. (Heimlich has objected to the name "abdominal thrusts" on the grounds that the vagueness of the term "abdomen" could cause the rescuer to exert force at the wrong site.[13])

Performing abdominal thrusts involves a rescuer standing behind a patient and using his or her hands to exert pressure on the bottom of the diaphragm. This compresses the lungs and exerts pressure on any object lodged in the trachea, hopefully expelling it. This amounts to an artificial cough. For example, WebMD recommends the rescuer placing his or her fist just above the person's bellybutton and grasping with other hand. To assist a larger person, more force may be needed.[14] The Mayo Clinic recommends the same placement of fist and hand and upward thrusts as if you are trying to lift the person. In addition, keep trying and alternate between five back blows, five abdominal thrusts, five back blows, and so on.[7]

Due to the forceful nature of the procedure, even when done correctly, it can injure the person on whom it is performed. Bruising to the abdomen is highly likely and more serious injuries can occur, including fracture of the xiphoid process or ribs.[15]

In some areas, such as Australia, authorities believe that there is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of abdominal thrusts and their use is not recommended in first aid. Instead, chest thrusts are recommended.[16]

Chest thrusts[edit]

A modified version of the technique is sometimes taught for use with pregnant and/or obese patients. The rescuer places their hand in the center of the chest to compress, rather than in the abdomen. Due to the fact that the Heimlich maneuver can inflict numerous injuries, the government of Australia recommends chest compressions for all individuals, irrespective of size, instead of the Heimlich maneuver. These compressions are performed by applying pressure to the lower portion of the sternum in a manner which is quicker than the chest compressions done in CPR.[17] A study by the Norwegian Department of Research and Education in Acute Medicine demonstrated that chest compressions are more effective than the Heimlich maneuver.[18]

Self treatment with abdominal thrusts[edit]

A person may also perform abdominal thrusts on himself by using a fixed object such as a railing or the back of a chair to apply pressure where a rescuer's hands would normally do so. As with other forms of the procedure, it is possible that internal injuries may result.

Finger sweeping[edit]

The American Medical Association advocates sweeping the fingers across the back of the throat to attempt to dislodge airway obstructions, once the choking victim becomes unconscious.[19]

Some protocols advocate the use of the rescuer's finger to 'sweep' foreign objects away once they have reached the mouth.[citation needed] However, many modern protocols recommend against the use of the finger sweep since, if the patient is conscious, they will be able to remove the foreign object themselves, or if they are unconscious, the rescuer should simply place them in the recovery position (where the object should fall out due to gravity). There is also a risk of causing further damage (for instance inducing vomiting) by using a finger sweep technique.

Direct vision removal[edit]

The advanced medical procedure to remove such objects is inspection of the airway with a laryngoscope or bronchoscope, and removal of the object under direct vision, followed by CPR if the patient does not start breathing on their own. Severe cases where there is an inability to remove the object may require cricothyrotomy.


In most protocols, once the patient has become unconscious, the emphasis switches to performing Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), involving both chest compressions and artificial respiration. These actions are often enough to dislodge the item sufficiently for air to pass it, allowing gaseous exchange in the lungs.


A tracheostomy is when an incision is made in your neck so that a tube can be put into your trachea to allow your lungs to function.[20] A tracheostomy is performed to allow oxygen rich air to be allowed into your lungs.[21] The procedure is usually only performed when other non-invasive methods have failed Heimlich manoeuvre, back blows. In many cases, an emergency tracheostomy can save a patient's life, but if performed incorrectly, it may end the patient’s life. An emergency tracheostomy is highly discouraged without proper, professional medical training.

Notable cases[edit]

Other uses of abdominal thrusts[edit]

Dr. Heimlich has advocated the use of the technique as a treatment for drowning[30] and asthma[31] attacks. The Red Cross contests his claims that the maneuver could help drowning victims and someone suffering an asthma attack. The Heimlich Institute has stopped advocating on their website for the Heimlich maneuver to be used as a first aid measure for drowning victims. His son, Peter M. Heimlich, alleges that in August 1974 his father published the first of a series of fraudulent case reports in order to promote the use of abdominal thrusts for near-drowning rescue.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ross, Darrell Lee; Chan, Theodore C (2006). Sudden Deaths in Custody. ISBN 978-1-59745-015-7. 
  2. ^ "Foreign Body Aspiration: Overview - eMedicine". Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  3. ^ "Choking Prevention". American Academy of Pediatrics ( 2010-06-14. 
  4. ^ Yadav SP, Singh J, Aggarwal N, Goel A (September 2007). "Airway foreign bodies in children: experience of 132 cases". Singapore Med J 48 (9): 850–3. PMID 17728968. 
  5. ^ "Girl, 7, saves mom's life with move she remembered from Mrs Doubtfire movie". Daily Mail (London). November 18, 2013. 
  6. ^ "The American Red Cross Unveils Innovative New First Aid and CPR/AED Training Programs". American National Red Cross. April 4, 2006. Archived from the original on April 29, 2006. 
  7. ^ a b Foreign object inhaled: First aid, Mayo Clinic staff, Nov. 1, 2011.
  8. ^ Guildner CW, Williams D, Subitch T (September 1976). "Airway obstructed by foreign material: the Heimlich maneuver". JACEP 5 (9): 675–7. doi:10.1016/S0361-1124(76)80099-8. PMID 1018395. 
  9. ^ Langhelle A, Sunde K, Wik L, Steen PA (April 2000). "Airway pressure with chest compressions versus Heimlich manoeuvre in recently dead adults with complete airway obstruction". Resuscitation 44 (2): 105–8. doi:10.1016/S0300-9572(00)00161-1. PMID 10767497. 
  10. ^ "Heimlich, on the maneuver". New York Times. 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  11. ^ "Lifejackets on Ice (August 2005)". University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  12. ^ Pamela Mills-Senn. "A New Maneuver (August 2005)". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  13. ^ John R. Fletemeyer, Sports Aid Intl Inc, Samuel James Freas (1998). Drowning: new perspectives on intervention and prevention. Informa Health Care. ISBN 978-1-57444-223-6. 
  14. ^ Heimlich Maneuver for Adults and Children Older Than 1 Year - Topic Overview, WebMD, April 28, 2010.
  15. ^ Broomfield, James (2007-01-01). "Heimlich maneuver on self". Discovery Channel. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  16. ^ "Australian(and New Zealand) Resuscitation Council Guideline 4 AIRWAY". Australian Resuscitation Council (2010). Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  17. ^ [1], Australian Resuscitation Council FAQ, August 14, 2012.
  18. ^ [2], Airway pressure with chest compressions versus Heimlich manoeuvre in recently dead adults with complete airway obstruction. , April 2000.
  19. ^ American Medical Association (2009-05-05). American Medical Association Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-0712-7. 
  20. ^ "What is a trahceostomy?". Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  21. ^ "What Is a Tracheostomy". Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  22. ^ "Hollywood star Clint Eastwood saves man from choking". BBC News. 2014-02-08. 
  23. ^ "Bush makes light of pretzel scare". BBC News. 2002-01-14. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  24. ^ "Jimmie Foxx Obituary". Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  25. ^ "Biography of Tennessee Williams". IMDB. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  26. ^ "Urban Legend of Mama Cass choking". Snopes Urban Legend Reference. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  27. ^ a b Vickers, Hugo (2005). Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. London: Hutchinson. p. 449. ISBN 0-09-180010-2. 
  28. ^ "Queen Mother recovers after operation". BBC News. 1999-01-25. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  29. ^ "Doctor performs emergency tracheotomy with a PEN to save woman's life after she choked on a piece of steak in packed restauran". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  30. ^ "Heimlich Institute on rescuing drowning victims". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  31. ^ "Heimlich Institute on rescuing asthma victims". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  32. ^ Heimlich, Peter M. "'Outmaneuvered - How We Busted the Heimlich Medical Frauds'". Retrieved 2007-06-22. 

External links[edit]