Medical Definition of Heimlich maneuver

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Heimlich maneuver: An emergency treatment for obstruction of the airway in adults. It may be needed when someone chokes on a piece of food that has "gone down the wrong way."

To perform the Heimlich maneuver, stand behind the victim, wrap your arms around their waist, makes a fist with one hand and holds the fist with the thumb side just below the breast bone. Place your other hand over this first and use it to pull sharply into the top of the choking person's stomach and forcefully presses up into the victim's diaphragm to expel the obstruction (most commonly food). Repeat as necessary.

In the early 1970s the American surgeon Henry Heimlich noted that food and other objects that caused choking by blocking the airway from the mouth to the lungs were not expelled by giving sharp blows to the back. In 1974 he devised a new method that he tested on laboratory dogs.The new manual thrust method -- the "Heimlich maneuver" -- is now in standard use. If the Heimlich maneuver is unsuccessful, an emergency tracheostomy may be needed to prevent suffocation.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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