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The Heimlich maneuver uses abdominal thrusts to force objects out of the throat. Underneath the lungs is a muscle called the diaphragm. This muscle contracts to move the lungs, helping them exhale air.                                                                       

Fast facts on the Heimlich maneuver:

  • When a person chokes, they cannot inhale or exhale air, which is why it is not possible to cough an object out during a choking episode.
  • Until the 1970s, there was no widely accepted research-based strategy for managing choking.
  • People should only ever carry out the Heimlich maneuver on someone who is choking.

How to do the Heimlich maneuver

There are four ways to perform the Heimlich maneuver, depending on the age and needs of the choking person. The underlying action with each approach is the same: using the muscles of the diaphragm to force the object out of the throat.

Conscious adult or child

If the adult or child over the age of 1 is conscious but cannot speak, cough, or breathe, perform the Heimlich maneuver immediately, following these steps:

  1. Stand behind the person who is choking, arms wrapped around their waist.
  2. Make one hand into a fist. Position the thumb side of the fist against the person’s stomach, below their ribs and above the belly button. It is possible to feel the diaphragm muscle.
  3. Put the other hand over the fist and push into this muscle with a rapid, forceful, upward thrust.
  4. Continue abdominal thrusts until the object comes out.

Unconscious adult or child

If the child or adult is unconscious or cannot sit or stand, perform these steps:

  1. Position the choking person flat on their back.
  2. Sit on the person’s thighs, facing toward them
  3. Place one hand on top of the other, and then position the heel of the hand over their diaphragm, just below their rib cage and above their belly button.
  4. Lean onto the hands, pushing up and in.
  5. Continue repeating thrusts until the object is coughed out.

Performing Heimlich on yourself

If you choke while alone, or when there is no one to help, do the following:

  1. Make a fist, and with thumbs pointing inward, position the fist against the diaphragm – under the rib cage and above the navel.
  2. Push in and up until the object is expelled.
  3. If unable to do this or it does not work lean over a solid object, such as a counter or chair. Position the edge at the diaphragm to push in and up. Move slightly forward and backward to produce thrusts.
  4. Repeat until the object is dislodged.

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