Everything you need to know about the Heimlich Maneuver
Thanks to movies and television, we’ve all probably wondered what we would do if we’re dining in a restaurant and someone started choking on their dinner. The Heimlich Maneuver has been dramatized over and over again, but would we actually feel comfortable doing it at the moment?
The method has been known to save lives, but there’s also been some controversy over whether it’s the best method out there, as well as what it should be called. Here’s a brief look at the background of Dr. Henry Heimlich, his ground-breaking maneuver, and how to do it.
Dr. Henry J. Heimlich was a thoracic surgeon who made several impactful discoveries during his lifetime. His research was conducted with the help of the Heimlich Institute in Cincinnati, of which he was president. He had many medical accomplishments, among them developing a treatment for victims suffering from trachoma, and acting as the first American surgeon to perform a reversed gastric tube operation, which replaces the esophagus.
According to Dr. Heimlich’s memorial website, still operated in his honor since his death in 2016, he invented the Heimlich Maneuver in 1974 when he heard that thousands of Americans die every year from choking. After years of research, he then discovered a way to force trapped air out from the lungs that would apply enough pressure to remove the obstruction from a person’s windpipe.
Because the maneuver is pretty simple for anyone to perform in a crisis, it became very popular and is still attributed to saving lives every year, according to the Heimlich website.
After a 1985 announcement from the Surgeon General claimed that the method was the only way to save choking victims, the American Red Cross recommended the Heimlich Maneuver, under that name. But in 2006, the organization removed “Heimlich” from the name and instead referred to the maneuver as “abdominal thrusts,” which is how it’s still termed today.
The Red Cross now recommends pairing the abdominal thrusts with blows to the back between the shoulder blades when someone is choking. Dr. Heimlich asked the Red Cross to remove his name from this new form of his method since he did not condone pairing his maneuver with the blows to the back.
How to perform the Heimlich Maneuver
To perform the Heimlich Maneuver the way Heimlich had intended it, and how the Red Cross still recommends you perform the abdominal thrusts, take the following steps:
- Stand behind the victim and wrap your arms around their waist.
- Make a fist, placing the thumb side of the fist against the victim’s upper abdomen, below their ribcage but above their navel.
- Grasping your fist with the other hand, press into the abdomen with quick, upward pressure. Make sure you’re not squeezing the ribcage but confining the thrust to your fist.
- Repeat until the obstruction is expelled.
The American Red Cross recommends that the above procedure is performed only after five back blows have been given to the victim. This is done by giving them five hits with the heel of your hand between their shoulder blades after bending the person forward at the waist.
The recommended procedure is then to continue the steps – five back blows followed by five abdominal thrusts – until the victim is no longer choking. Before performing any method on any victim, however, the Red Cross advises to call 9-1-1.
What if the victim is lying down or unconscious?
If this is the case, give the victim four upward thrusts with the heel of your hand just above the waistline, while straddling the victim. Repeat several times if necessary.
While the American Red Cross and other health organizations like the American Heart Association have modified Dr. Heimlich’s original method, his ground-breaking work popularized a new life-saving method for choking victims, and he won the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award in 1984.
For more information about CPR, AED, and first aid training in your area, get in touch with One Beat CPR. We offer a variety of lifesaving education classes that will help families, educators, or companies deal with emergency situations.