When to Avoid Performing the Heimlich Maneuver


The Heimlich maneuver is a potentially life-saving technique used to dislodge an obstruction from the airway in cases of choking. However, there are situations where performing the Heimlich maneuver may not be appropriate or could potentially cause harm. In this blog post, we will discuss instances when you should refrain from performing the Heimlich maneuver, providing insights from MyCPR NOW to ensure the safety and well-being of both the person experiencing choking and the rescuer.

1. Assess the Situation:
Before attempting the Heimlich maneuver, it's crucial to assess the situation and determine if it is appropriate to intervene. Consider the following factors:

a. Consciousness: Ensure the person is conscious and responsive. If they are unconscious, the appropriate action is to initiate CPR.

b. Effective Coughing: If the person is able to cough forcefully or speak, encourage them to continue coughing to try and dislodge the obstruction. Coughing is the body's natural mechanism for clearing the airway.

2. Age Considerations:
The Heimlich maneuver may not be suitable for certain age groups or individuals. Take the following factors into account:

a. Infants Under One Year: For infants, the recommended action is back blows and chest thrusts. The Heimlich maneuver is not appropriate for this age group.

b. Pregnant Women: Use caution when performing the Heimlich maneuver on pregnant women, as excessive force could harm both the woman and the fetus. Adaptations to the technique may be necessary, such as positioning the hands higher on the chest to avoid the abdomen.

c. Frail or Elderly Individuals: Consider the person's overall physical condition. Frail or elderly individuals may have fragile bones or medical conditions that could be exacerbated by the forceful abdominal thrusts involved in the Heimlich maneuver. It is important to assess the situation carefully and, if in doubt, seek medical assistance.

3. Conscious Obstructed Breathing:
In cases where the person is conscious but still able to breathe, it is important to encourage them to maintain their airway and cough forcefully. Do not perform the Heimlich maneuver if the person is able to move air in and out of their lungs adequately, as this could cause unnecessary harm.

4. Medical Assistance Available:
If medical professionals are on the scene or help is readily available, it may be best to defer to their expertise and allow them to assess and manage the situation. They have the necessary training and resources to handle choking emergencies effectively.

5. Other Possible Airway Obstructions:
The Heimlich maneuver is specifically intended for cases of airway obstruction due to foreign objects. If the choking is caused by other factors, such as a swollen airway or anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), the appropriate course of action may differ. Seek medical assistance and follow the recommended protocols for these specific situations.

6. Personal Safety:
Your own safety should always be a priority when providing first aid. If the situation poses a risk to your safety, such as in the presence of hazardous substances or an unstable environment, it is essential to consider your own well-being and seek assistance from trained professionals.


The Heimlich maneuver is an important technique to dislodge an airway obstruction during choking incidents. However, there are circumstances when performing the Heimlich maneuver may not be appropriate or could potentially cause harm. It is crucial to assess the situation carefully, considering factors such as consciousness, age, the effectiveness of coughing, and the availability of medical assistance. When in doubt, seek professional help and follow the recommended protocols for managing choking emergencies. Your safety and the well-being of the person experiencing choking are of utmost importance. By understanding the limitations and appropriate use of the Heimlich maneuver, you can provide the best possible care in choking emergencies.

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