The Heimlich manoeuvre, a short sharp burst of pressure to the abdomen to clear a blockage in the throat, is just as effective when performed by the person who is choking, experts have found.
According to research by a team at Royal Brompton Hospital and Imperial College London, published in the journal Thorax, the manoeuvre can be self-administered, either by pressing the abdomen sharply onto a chair, or by delivering a similar thrust with the hand.
As part of the research doctors swallowed pressure sensors and then monitored how much force was created in the chest during the usual technique, and when performed solo. They found both methods were equally effective at clearing a blockage.
Researchers warned that too often people were embarrassed when they started choking and sought privacy, often where nobody could help.
Dr Nick Hopkinson, honorary consultant chest physician, said: “Choking can be a cause of sudden death in a perfectly healthy person. There may be only a few minutes to save a life. It is important to raise awareness of what to do if you are with someone who is choking and especially if you are by yourself and choking.”
To carry out the manoeuvre, the team advises ‘positioning your own hands in the standard position for the abdominal manoeuvre with the thumb side of the fist over the fleshy party of the abdomen, above the navel. You should then perform thrusts on your own abdomen up to the maximum force that you can tolerate’.
To use a chair, the study suggests ‘positioning yourself above a high backed chair, with the chair back positioned below the upper half of the abdomen, below the ribcage. You should then use gravity, body weight and arms for additional force and let the back of the chair thrust up into the abdomen’.
Dr Hopkinson added: ‘We would like to see the self-administered technique taught on first aid courses and in schools. Posters in every restaurant and training for restaurant staff could help save lives.’