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Posted: August 27, 2010

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Heimlich Maneuver Saves Seniors from Choking to Death

Q. I’m presuming there actually was someone named Heimlich who gave his name to the maneuver for helping people who are choking. Am I right?

Yes, there actually is a Heimlich -- Henry J. Heimlich, MD. In 1974, Dr. Heimlich published findings on what became the Heimlich Maneuver. Since then, the method has saved about 100,000 people in the United States alone.

[Personal note: I met Dr. Heimlich and worked with a team on the initial program to educate the public about the maneuver. A day after our group learned the technique, one of my co-workers saved a boy who was choking on an ice cube.]

More than 3,000 people choke to death every year. Children younger than three years old and senior citizens are the leading victims.

Young children swallow small objects that get lodged in their throats. One of the main causes for choking among seniors is ill-fitting dentures that prevent them from chewing properly. This leads to choking on a piece of food.

Other causes of choking include drinking alcohol which can dull the nerves that help us swallow, eating too fast, laughing while eating, eating and walking.

If you ever have to use the Heimlich Maneuver on someone who is choking, here is a basic guide from the Heimlich Institute:

A.) If a choking victim can't speak or breathe and needs your help immediately, follow these steps:

From behind, wrap your arms around the victim's waist. Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against the victim's upper abdomen, below the ribcage and above the navel. Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into their upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Do not squeeze the ribcage; confine the force of the thrust to your hands. Repeat until object is expelled.

B.) Unconscious victim, or when rescuer can’t reach around victim:

Place the victim on back. Facing the victim, kneel astride the victim's hips. With one of your hands on top of the other, place the heel of your bottom hand on the upper abdomen below the rib cage and above the navel. Use your body weight to press into the victim's upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Repeat until object is expelled.

If the victim has not recovered, proceed with CPR. The victim should see a physician immediately after rescue. Don't slap the victim's back; this could make matters worse.

C.) Follow these steps to help a choking infant:

Lay the child down, face up, on a firm surface and kneel or stand at the victim's feet, or hold infant on your lap facing away from you. Place the middle and index fingers of both your hands below his rib cage and above his navel. Press into the victim's upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust; do not squeeze the rib cage. Be very gentle. Repeat until object is expelled.

If the victim has not recovered, proceed with CPR. The victim should see a physician immediately after rescue. Don't slap the victim's back; this could make matters worse.

D.) Follow these steps to save yourself from choking:

Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against your upper abdomen, below the ribcage and above the navel. Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into your upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Repeat until object is expelled.

Alternatively, you can lean over a fixed horizontal object (table edge, chair, railing) and press your upper abdomen against the edge to produce a quick upward thrust. Repeat until object is expelled. See a physician immediately after rescue.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2010 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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