How to Correctly Perform the Heimlich Maneuver: A Life-Saving Technique

The Heimlich maneuver, also known as abdominal thrusts, is a life-saving technique used to dislodge an object stuck in a person's airway, preventing choking and potentially fatal consequences. Named after its creator, Dr. Henry Heimlich, this maneuver has become an essential skill for everyone to know, as choking incidents can happen unexpectedly and anywhere. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the importance of the Heimlich maneuver, when and how to perform it, and some precautions to consider.

Performing the Heimlich maneuver is appropriate when you encounter someone who is choking and cannot cough, breathe, or speak. Here are the steps on how to perform Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand Behind the Choking Person: Position yourself slightly to the side and slightly behind the person to provide support.
  2. Make a Fist: Form a fist with one hand, placing the thumb side against the middle of the person's abdomen, just above the navel.
  3. Grasp with the Other Hand: Place your other hand over your fist, ensuring a secure grip.
  4. Perform Abdominal Thrusts: Use a quick, upward thrust into the person's abdomen with both hands. The goal is to force the object out of the airway. Perform several thrusts, if needed.
  5. Continue Until the Object Is Expelled: Continue performing abdominal thrusts until the person can breathe, cough, or until they become unconscious. If they lose consciousness, call for emergency medical assistance and begin CPR if you're trained to do so.
  6. Provide Support: After the object is expelled and the person can breathe, offer comfort and reassure them. Encourage them to seek medical attention to ensure no further complications arise.

Assess the Situation

When you encounter a person who appears to be choking, your first and most crucial step is to quickly assess the situation. Start by asking the person if they need help, as they may still be able to communicate. If they respond and indicate that they are choking but conscious, encourage them to cough forcefully to try and dislodge the obstruction. If the person is unable to respond or cannot cough effectively, this is a clear sign that the Heimlich maneuver is required. In such cases, immediate action is vital to prevent further complications.


Stand Behind the Choking Person

After determining that the person requires assistance, it's essential to position yourself correctly. Stand behind the choking person and slightly to the side, as this provides better support and allows you to perform the maneuver effectively. This positioning ensures that your actions won't obstruct their airway further or accidentally harm them during the process.


Make a Fist

To initiate the Heimlich maneuver, create a fist with one of your hands. Position the thumb side of your fist against the person's abdomen, specifically targeting the area just above the navel. This location is critical because it's where the diaphragm is located, and applying pressure here can generate the necessary force to expel the obstruction from the airway.


Grasp with the Other Hand

To maximize control and effectiveness, use your other hand to firmly grasp the hand that is making the fist. This dual-handed grip ensures that your fist remains securely in place during the maneuver and reduces the risk of it slipping or causing injury.


Perform Abdominal Thrusts

With a secure grip in place, it's time to perform the abdominal thrusts. Apply a quick and forceful upward thrust into the person's abdomen using your clenched fist. The objective here is to generate enough pressure to dislodge the obstructing object from the airway. Remember that this motion should be sharp and deliberate, as it's the key to removing the blockage effectively. If the initial thrust does not succeed, be prepared to repeat the process with multiple thrusts until the object is expelled.


Continue Until the Object Is Expelled

Continue performing abdominal thrusts until one of the following occurs:

  • The person can breathe and cough effectively, indicating that the obstruction has been cleared.
  • The person becomes unconscious: In this case, immediately call for emergency medical assistance and prepare to administer CPR if you are trained to do so. Continue to monitor the person closely and provide any necessary assistance until professional help arrives.


Provide Support

Once the object is expelled, and the person can breathe and cough, your role shifts to providing support and reassurance. Encourage them to take slow, deep breaths and remain calm. Offer comfort and empathy, as the experience can be quite traumatic. Even though the immediate danger has passed, it's crucial for the person to seek medical attention to ensure there are no underlying injuries or complications resulting from the choking incident. Remain with the person until they are stable and professional medical assistance is available, if necessary.


What is the Heimlich maneuver?

Abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver, is a first aid procedure used to help a choking victim who is conscious and unable to talk. The Heimlich maneuver involves applying sudden and forceful pressure to the person's abdomen, just above the navel, to create a burst of air that can dislodge the obstructing object and allow the person to breathe again. The goal is to generate enough pressure to expel the object from the airway and restore normal breathing.

Heimlich Maneuver

Who Invented the Heimlich maneuver?

In 1974, Dr. Henry Heimlich invented the Heimlich maneuver. He discovered the remaining air in a person’s lungs could be used to dislodge a foreign object from the victim’s esophagus using quick, upward thrusts under their ribcage.

Initially, this procedure didn’t catch on with the medical community, and the back blows or backslap method remained the known first aid choking treatment for another ten years. Eventually, the Heimlich maneuver caught on for use in conscious children and adults. However, back blows is still recommended for infants.

When to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver

Performing the Heimlich maneuver is appropriate when you encounter someone who is choking and is unable to cough, breathe, or speak. Key signs that indicate someone is choking include:

  1. Inability to speak or make a sound.
  2. Clutching their throat or making the universal choking sign by placing their hands on their neck.
  3. Struggling to breathe or cough effectively.
  4. Their skin turns blue or gray due to lack of oxygen.
  5. A panicked expression or a look of distress.

What to Do Before I Start the Heimlich Maneuver?

Before performing the Heimlich Maneuver or Abdominal Thrusts, ask the person first if he is choking. If he nods yes, ask if he can speak. Call 911 or the emergency medical services team immediately if the person cannot speak. While waiting for the medical personnel, you can then perform the Heimlich maneuver on the victim until help arrives.

If the choking victim can speak, the airway is only partly blocked. Tell them to try coughing to push the object out of the airway.

Also Read- What To Do If Someone Is Choking on Water?

Heimlich Maneuver

How to Perform Heimlich Maneuver on a Pregnant Victim?

  1. Wrap your arms under the armpits of the pregnant victim.
  2. Place your fist on the center of the victim’s breastbone.
  3. Ensure your fist is not low on the breastbone or off to one side on the ribs.
  4. Place your other hand over your fist, and do quick thrusts.
  5. Repeat until the foreign object comes out or the person becomes unconscious.

How Do I Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Myself?

If you experience choking and can breathe and talk, cough hard to force the foreign object out. However, if you cannot talk or cough and having trouble breathing, do the following:

  1. Call 911. Set the phone down while you do abdominal thrusts.
  2. Make a fist with one hand. Place your thumb side of your fist between your belly button and the lowest part of your ribs.
  3. Put your other hand over your fist, then press your fist into your abdomen with a quick inward and upward push. Repeat the quick pushes until you can spit out the object.
  4. If you cannot get the foreign object out, press your upper abdomen over a hard, flat surface. You may need to do many hard, fast pushes against the surface to clear your airway.

Who Should Not Receive the Heimlich Maneuver?

Infants shouldn’t receive the Heimlich maneuver. Instead, it would help if you will do back blows or chest thrusts. In addition, if a choking victim is unconscious, they should not receive the Heimlich maneuver. Instead, you should perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), which consists of chest compressions and rescue breathing.

Heimlich Maneuver

What Are the Risks of the Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is a safe and quick method to save the lives of choking victims. You don’t need formal medical training to perform the Heimlich maneuver. However, severe abdominal harm can be done if the Heimlich maneuver isn’t performed correctly. Problems can occur if the foreign object is not removed after the first few thrusts.

When you perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking victim, gastrointestinal tract holes and broken ribs can be the most common complications. Other rare abdominal complications can happen. But performing the Heimlich maneuver is still recommended in a life-or-death situation.

Precautions and Additional Tips

While the Heimlich maneuver is a life-saving technique, it should be administered with care and attention to some important considerations:

  1. Tailor the Force: Adjust the force of your abdominal thrusts according to the person's size and age. Use less force for children and more for adults.
  2. Be Mindful of Pregnancy and Obesity: In the case of pregnant individuals or obese individuals, position your hands slightly higher, just below the chest, to avoid causing harm to the baby or aggravating underlying health conditions.
  3. Check for Successful Removal: After each thrust, check the person's mouth for any dislodged objects. If you see an object, remove it carefully with your fingers.
  4. Seek Medical Attention: Even if the object is expelled, the person should still seek medical attention to ensure there are no complications or damage to the airway.


Are There Any Heimlich Maneuver Training Classes Available?

Many training centers and health organizations offer CPR and First Aid Certification courses where you learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver properly. This course is meant for the general public that needs the course for regulatory or other job requirements. In addition, it is available for anyone with limited or no medical training who needs certification in CPR and AED to meet job, regulatory or other requirements. Upon completing this course, students receive a certification card valid for two years.

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