Definition of the Heimlich Maneuver

    The Heimlich maneuver is a technique used to help someone who is choking. Abdominal thrusts are used to unblock their windpipe so they can breathe.

    The Heimlich maneuver should not be performed on someone who is breathing. If they can talk, they don’t need the Heimlich. Instead, encourage them to cough.

    When someone is choking, the Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” technique:

    • Give five back blows. These blows are delivered with the heel of your hand between the person’s shoulder blades.
    • Give five abdominal thrusts (Heimlich)
    • Continue to alternate between back blows and abdominal thrusts until the object is dislodged. (Mayo Clinic)

    Before performing the Heimlich maneuver, have someone else call 911. If you are alone, perform the Heimlich maneuver first.

    Why the Heimlich Maneuver Is Done

    The Heimlich maneuver is used to help someone who is choking on food or another object.

    A person may signal that they are choking by grabbing or pointing at their throat.

    Other signs of choking include:

    • inability to talk
    • trouble breathing
    • noisy breathing
    • inability to cough
    • blue tint to the skin, lips, or nails
    • loss of consciousness

    The Heimlich maneuver can be performed on people of all ages. It can be used whether they are conscious or unconscious. You can even perform it on yourself.

    The Risks of the Heimlich Maneuver

    It’s important to perform the Heimlich maneuver properly, as it is possible to injure the person you are trying to help. Injuries from this maneuver may include cracked ribs or bruised internal organs.

    How the Heimlich Maneuver Is Performed

    There is more than one way to perform the Heimlich maneuver. The technique depends on the person who is choking. However, you should always repeat the maneuver until they spit out the object. Then, if they aren’t breathing, you should begin CPR.

    On a Standing or Seated Adult

    Stand behind the person who is choking. Make a fist with one hand and place it slightly above their navel. Grab your fist with your other hand. Making sure to keep your arms away from their ribs, thrust your fist upward and inward five times.

    On an Adult Who Is Lying Down

    Turn the person on his or her back and straddle him or her with one leg on each side. Place the heel of one hand just above the person’s waistline and place your other hand on top. Keep your elbows straight while thrusting your hands down and towards his or her mouth —like you’re physically trying to force air out of the person. Repeat these thrusts until he or she spits the object out.

    If the person becomes unconscious, open his or her mouth. Look to see if you can visualize the object blocking the person’s throat. If so, try and swipe it out with your finger. Be careful not to push it further into his or her throat.

    On an Obese or Pregnant Person

    The traditional Heimlich maneuver can damage a fetus. It may also be difficult to get your arms around an obese person. For these reasons, have the victim lean forward. Then strike them firmly with the heel of your hand between their shoulder blades. Do this five times. If this doesn’t work, attempt the Heimlich maneuver. However, your hands should be higher. Position them at the base of the breastbone right above the lowest ribs.

    On an Infant

    If a child under the age of 1 is choking, hold him or her facedown on your forearm. Support the head with your palm, making sure to not cover the child’s face. Sit down and rest your forearm on your thigh. Give the child five gentle, yet firm thumps on the back with the heel of your palm.

    If this doesn’t work, turn the child over. Hold him or her on your forearm with his or her head lower than the child’s chest. Put two fingers on the center of his or her breastbone. Give five quick pushes to the child’s chest.

    If the object still hasn’t been spit out, alternate chest and back compressions.

    On Yourself

    If you’re choking and there is no one to help, you can perform the Heimlich on yourself. Make a fist. Place it below your ribcage and above your navel. Then give yourself thrusts just as you would another adult.

    You can also lean over a table or other hard object and thrust against the edge.

    After the Heimlich Maneuver

    After you’ve successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver on someone, and he or she can breathe, encourage the person to sit down. Allow the person to catch his or her breath. The person should wait to be checked out by emergency services.

    The person you helped may be shaken. Choking and being unable to breathe can be a traumatic event. Attempt to calm him or her down until emergency help arrives.