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Heimlich Maneuver

Heimlich Maneuver Pronunciation: ˈhīm-lik mə-ˈnü-vər

Definition: The Heimlich maneuver is a first-aid procedure used to treat upper airway obstructions (or choking) by foreign objects. It involves standing behind the person and applying sudden, upward abdominal thrusts to increase pressure in the chest and force the foreign object out of the airway.

What is the Heimlich Maneuver?


The Heimlich maneuver is a first-aid procedure used when a person is choking. It involves a rescuer standing behind the victim and using their hands to exert pressure on the bottom of the diaphragm. This compression forces air up and out of the person’s lungs, hopefully dislodging the foreign object blocking the airway.

Key Facts About the Heimlich Maneuver:

  • The Heimlich maneuver is a standard technique taught in first aid and CPR courses, designed to assist someone who is choking.
  • The technique can be used on adults, children, and even oneself, but the method varies slightly for each scenario.
  • Choking is a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. It can lead to unconsciousness or even death within a few minutes due to a lack of oxygen.
  • While the Heimlich maneuver is highly effective, it should be used cautiously, as it can lead to injuries, including broken ribs or internal organ damage, especially in the elderly or frail.

Steps to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver:

  1. Stand Behind the Person: First, stand behind the person who is choking. Wrap your arms around their waist and lean them forward slightly.
  2. Make a Fist: With one hand, make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist just above the person’s navel, well below the breastbone.
  3. Grab Your Fist: Grab your fist with your other hand.
  4. Give Quick Upward Thrusts: Perform a quick, upward thrust, as if trying to lift the person up. The goal is to create enough force to dislodge the object blocking the airway.
  5. Repeat if Necessary: If the object does not come out, repeat these steps until medical help arrives or the object is dislodged.

Understanding the Heimlich Maneuver

What are the symptoms of choking? Choking is characterized by several noticeable symptoms, including:

  • Inability to talk
  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • Inability to cough forcefully
  • Skin, lips, and nails turning blue or dusky
  • Loss of consciousness

What causes choking?

Choking usually occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food is often the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Chewing food properly, keeping small objects out of reach of children, and avoiding distractions while eating can help prevent choking incidents.

How is choking diagnosed?

Choking is typically a clear, acute event – the person will often clutch at their throat, unable to speak, cough, or breathe properly. In cases where the person loses consciousness, a bystander will need to recognize these symptoms quickly.

How is choking treated?

When a person is choking, the Heimlich maneuver can be used to expel the foreign object from their airway. If the person loses consciousness, you should start CPR immediately and continue until medical professionals arrive. Once the object is dislodged, the person should still seek medical attention to ensure there are no lasting injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Heimlich Maneuver

When should the Heimlich Maneuver be used?

The Heimlich Maneuver should be used when a person is choking and cannot breathe, talk, or cough effectively. Signs of choking include clutching at the throat, inability to speak or cough, and turning blue or red in the face. However, if the person is coughing forcefully and can speak, let them try to cough up the object first.

Is the Heimlich Maneuver safe for everyone?

The Heimlich maneuver is not safe for everyone. It should not be used on infants under 1 year old, or on people who are obese or pregnant. For infants, use back blows and chest thrusts instead. For individuals who are obese or pregnant, perform high abdominal thrusts or chest compressions.

What should I do if I’m alone and choking?

If you’re alone and choking, you can perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself. Place a fist below your ribcage but above your navel, grasp your fist with your other hand, and press your fist inward and upward. You can also lean over a chair or railing and thrust your upper abdomen against the edge.