Heimlich Maneuver

What is Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid technique that is used when a person is choking due to upper air way obstruction, where foreign objects have been lodged in the airway and is therefore preventing the victim from breathing.

Heimlich Maneuver picture 1

The Heimlich maneuver is also called the abdominal thrusts.

When the body is deprived of oxygen by a foreign body obstructing the airway, it can lead to permanent brain damage and in four minutes or less, it may result in death of the victim. Therefore, Heimlich maneuver is able to save the life of a person who is choking. It is important to understand that this first aid procedure is not performed on infants who are under one year. Infants may need a different technique.

The steps in performing Heimlich maneuver will differ if the victim you are offering help is conscious or unconscious. Again, the procedure depends on whether a women is pregnant or not. An individual may also be able to perform this procedure on themselves. 5

Signs of Chocking

A choking victim will usually have a panicked look on their face with their hands wrapped around their throat as a signal that they are choking. Signals of airway obstruction include:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Inability to cough
  • Blue or grey color to the lips or fingernails due to lack of oxygen
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Why is the Heimlich Technique Important?

Choking is among the fourth leading cause of unintentional death by obstructing the airways and leading to suffocation. The Heimlich technique can be used to not only save other people’s lives but also your own.

What Happens during the Heimlich Maneuver?

During the Heimlich maneuver, pressure is exerted at the bottom of the diaphragmand in turn this compresses the lungs, forcing the air in the lungs out creating what is known as an ‘artificial cough’, the air expelled from the lungs is what expels the object trapped in the trachea carrying it back to the mouth.


The Heimlich maneuver can be performed on all choking victims, however this technique is modified when it comes to:

  • Infants
  • Small children
  • Obese individuals
  • Pregnant women

The Heimlich technique can be performed on all kinds of chocking victims.

For Adults

For a choking adult, if you wish to perform the Heimlich technique here is what you need to do:

  • You should stand behind the victim with your legs apart, this can help you gain stability in case the victim losses consciousness during the procedure and make it easier to catch them.
  • Now reach around the victim from behind and circle your hands around their waist. Then make a fist with your dominant hand, the thumb side of your fist should point into the victims stomach. This fist should be placed below the ribcage and above the navel, which is also known as the belly button.
  • Grasp your fist using the other hand and then press into the victim’s upper abdomen making a quick upward thrust. Take caution not to squeeze the ribcage by confining the force of your thrust to the hands only. This should be repeated until the object is expelled but one should stop immediately it is realized that the victim is unconscious.

Unconscious Victims

Unconscious Victims or Victims You Can’t Reach Around Such As Obese Individuals

For an unconscious victim or for a victim you can’t reach around, this is what you should do.

  • Place the victim on their back.
  • As you face the individual try to kneel astride their hips, then using one hand placed on top of the other, proceed to place your bottom hand’s heel on the upper abdomen at the point just below their rib cage and pretty above the navel, also known as the belly button.
  • Finally use your body weight to press into the victim’s upper abdomen using the heel of your hand to deliver a quick upward thrust. Repeat this thrust until the object is expelled.
  • If the victim is still unconscious after this proceed to give them CPR. It is important for the victim to see a physician soon after rescue.

For Infants

For children under one year, To perform the procedure on children under the age of one, this is what you need to do:

  • While sitting down lay the infant face down on your forearm so that the infant’s head is facing downward to the floor and it should be tilted lower than their chest. You can also rest your forearm on your thigh for extra support.
  • Now with the heel of your other hand gently deliver five rapid blows to the infant’s back right between the shoulder blades, this is known as back blows.
  • If the back blows fail to expel the object, support the infants head and turn the infant face up on your thigh while maintaining the infant’s head downward to the floor and tilted lower than the infant’s head.
  • Then placing two or three fingers on the infant’s breast bone just below the infant’s nipple line give five quick chest thrusts.

Heimlich Maneuver in infants picture 1

These series of chest thrusts and back blows are alternated until the foreign object is expelled. If the infant becomes unconscious the back blows along with the chest thrusts should be stopped and CPR should be administered immediately.

For Children

In case of a child, you need to follow this procedure:

  • For a child who is conscious you can stand or kneel or behind the child who may be seated or standing, then make a fist with one hand placing the thumb side of the fist toward the child’s stomach, below the ribcage and above the navel, then with the other hand encircle the child’s waist and place it on top of the fist. Give a series of five upward thrusts rapidly. Repeat this until the object is expelled.
  • If the child is unconscious or if the child becomes unconscious then you should lay the child on the floor and bend the chin forward. Then make sure the tongue is not blocking the airway, you should feel in the mouth for the foreign object while being careful not to push it any further away.

Kneel astride the child’s thighs while placing both fists between the child’s ribcage and the navel. Then you should deliver a series of five quick compressions pushing inward and upward.

Then, you should again lift the chin, make sure that the tongue is not blocking the airway then feel for the object and the remove it if possible. This checking and abdominal thrusts should be repeated as necessary. If the child is not breathing CPR should be performed.

This technique can be performed in children, those over one year the same way as in adults but the amount of force applied during the technique should be restricted so as to avoid damaging the child’s ribs, breastbone or internal organs.

For Pregnant Women

For a pregnant woman, you can perform Heimlich procedure by following these steps:

  • You need to place your hand a little higher than in the other cases, place it on their torso just around the base of their breastbone.
  • If the victim is unconscious place them on their back and try to clear out their airway using your finger in a sweeping motion.
  • If you can’t remove the foreign object start performing CPR on the patient.

Heimlich Technique On Yourself

When you are alone and choking, you can do the following:

  • Make a fist and place it below the ribcage and above the navel with the thumb side facing the stomach.
  • Then, grab the fist with the other hand and push it inward and upward simultaneously. Perform five of these abdominal thrusts until you expel the foreign object from your airway allowing you to breathe or cough on your own.
  • You can also thrust your upper abdomen against a hard edge such as that of a table or counter or the back of a chair.

Reference List

  1. Heimlich maneuver for pregnant women. http://www.thedoctorstv.com/videos/heimlich-maneuver-for-pregnant-women
  2. Heimlich maneuver. http://www.healthofchildren.com/G-H/Heimlich-Maneuver.html
  3. Chocking Rescue Procedure.http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/choking-rescue-procedure-heimlich-maneuver-baby-younger-than-1-year
  4. Chocking Rescue Procedure- Overview.http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/choking-rescue-procedure-heimlich-maneuver-overview
  5. Heimlich maneuver. http://www.healthline.com/health/heimlich-maneuver

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