Abdominal thrusts

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Abdominal thrusts
US medic teaches the Heimlich manuever to laughing Afghans.jpg
US medic teaches the abdominal thrusts to Afghans

Abdominal thrusts, also called the Heimlich manoeuvre or Heimlich maneuver, is a first aid procedure used to treat upper airway obstructions (or choking) by foreign objects. The term Heimlich maneuver is named after Dr. Henry Heimlich, who first described it in 1974.

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.

Most modern protocols, including those of the American Heart Association, American Red Cross and the European Resuscitation Council,[1] recommend several stages for airway obstructions, designed to apply increasingly more pressure. Most protocols recommend encouraging the victim to cough, followed by hard back slaps, and finally abdominal thrusts or chest thrusts as a last resort. Some guidelines also recommend alternating between abdominal thrusts and back slaps.[1][2]


An example of abdominal thrusts

Henry Heimlich, noted for promulgating abdominal thrusts, claimed that back slaps were proven to cause death by lodging foreign objects into the windpipe.[3] 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.[4] 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."[5]

From 1985-2005, abdominal thrusts were the only recommended treatment for choking in the published guidelines of the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. In 2006, both organizations drastically changed course and "downgraded" the use of the technique. For conscious victims, the new guidelines recommend first applying back slaps; if this method failed to remove the airway obstruction, rescuers were to then apply abdominal thrusts. For unconscious victims, the new guidelines recommend chest thrusts.

The European Resuscitation Council and the Mayo Clinic recommend alternating between 5 back slaps and 5 abdominal thrusts in severe airway obstructions.[1][2]

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.[6]

Henry Heimlich also promoted it as a treatment for drowning[7] and asthma[8] 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.[9][10] The 2005 drowning rescue guidelines of the American Heart Association[11] did not include citations of Heimlich's work and warn against the use of the Heimlich maneuver for drowning rescue as unproven and dangerous, due to its risk of vomiting leading to aspiration.[11]


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.[12] The Mayo Clinic recommends the same placement of fist and hand and upward thrusts as if you are trying to lift the person.[2]

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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Nolan, JP; Soar, J; Zideman, DA; Biarent, D; Bossaert, LL; Deakin, C; Koster, RW; Wyllie, J; Böttiger, B; ERC Guidelines Writing Group. "European Resuscitation Council Guidelines for Resuscitation 2010 Section 1. Executive summary". Resuscitation 81 (10): 1226. doi:10.1016/j.resuscitation.2010.08.021. PMID 20956052. Retrieved 20 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Foreign object inhaled: First aid, Mayo Clinic staff, Nov. 1, 2011.
  3. ^ "Heimlich, on the maneuver". New York Times. 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  4. ^ "Lifejackets on Ice (August 2005)" (PDF). University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  5. ^ Pamela Mills-Senn. "A New Maneuver (August 2005)". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved 2013-12-22. 
  6. ^ "Australian(and New Zealand) Resuscitation Council Guideline 4 AIRWAY". Australian Resuscitation Council (2010). Retrieved 2014-02-09. 
  7. ^ "Heimlich Institute on rescuing drowning victims". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  8. ^ "Heimlich Institute on rescuing asthma victims". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  9. ^ Heimlich, Peter M. "'Outmaneuvered - How We Busted the Heimlich Medical Frauds'". Retrieved 2007-06-22. 
  10. ^ Heimlich's son cites Dallas case in dispute. Wilkes-Barre News, August 22, 2007
  11. ^ a b "Part 10.3: Drowning". Circulation (American Heart Association) 112 (24): 133–135. 2005-11-25. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.166565. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  12. ^ Heimlich Maneuver for Adults and Children Older Than 1 Year - Topic Overview, WebMD, April 28, 2010.
  13. ^ Broomfield, James (2007-01-01). "Heimlich maneuver on self". Discovery Channel. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 

External links[edit]