Health Watch

Email about surviving a heart attack is full of wrong information

What started as a "chain letter" more than 40 years ago is still making the rounds thanks to email.

CREATED Jul. 26, 2011

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  • The internet is breathing new life into an old wives tale. And it's spreading false information about what to do to survive a heart attack. Video by kgun9.com

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Reporter: Kimberly Romo

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - If you have received the email, chances are it was a mass forward sent to you by someone you know.  If it hasn't arrived in your inbox yet, it's probably just a matter of time.  It's an attachment titled "heart attack 12."  Open it up, and in just a few minutes, it claims to teach you how to save yourself during a heart attack.  We sat down with Dr. Gordon Ewy, the top doc at the UA Sarver Heart Center.  We went through slide-by-slide to sort out what's true, what's not, and what you should do instead.

It starts with a scenario... You're driving home from work alone when you start experiencing chest pain that radiates up your arm and into your jaw.  These symptoms are actually true, but only for men.  Symptoms for women are very different, and may include severe fatigue, pain, and discomfort in the shoulder or abdominal area.  The email then asks the question, what do you do?  It says start coughing, and cough hard, while taking a big breath in between each one.  Dr. Ewy says doing this has nothing to do with prolonging your life.  The coughing and breathing sequence won't make a bit of difference in whether you survive, and will actually only make you exhausted.  He adds that at this point in the emergency, you should call 911.  Let the dispatcher know where you are, and what your symptoms are.

Calling 911 may seem simple enough, but it's a crucial step that's never even mentioned in the email.  The quicker help arrives, the better your chances of survival.  For every one minute help is delayed during cardiac arrest, the chances of survival drops 10%.  The email gives the illusion that by doing the coughing and breathing technique, your heart will start beating normally again.  Dr. Ewy says it's ridiculous.  The email even sites the Journal of General Hospital Rochester.  Dr. Ewy says he's never heard of it, and adds that it is the same journal they have been quoting for the last 40 years.  His advice if you get this email: toss it.  "If you get one of these, just put it in your trash on your computer and don't send it on.  You're not doing people a favor at all," says Ewy.