Updated 16 January 2017

How to perform the Heimlich maneuver

The Heimlich manoeuvre can help when someone is choking. Here's how to do it correctly.


Just about all of us have experienced choking. While you’re eating and chatting a piece of food suddenly gets stuck in your windpipe.

Usually a slap on the back (common but not actually recommended) will dislodge it but sometimes it doesn’t work.

If the victim can’t breathe you need to act quickly because the brain can’t do without oxygen for long.

What exactly is the Heimlich maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is a technique used to dislodge an object blocking someone's airway. It works by sending a blast of air upward through the windpipe. The American Red Cross advises alternating five back blows with five abdominal thrusts when performing the Heimlich maneuver.

The Heimlich maneuver involves four basic steps for victims over 1 year old:

1. Stand behind the victim and wrap your arms around his waist.
2. Place a fist between the victim's ribcage and navel.
3. Grab one fist with the other hand and quickly thrust upward.
4. Repeat until the object comes out.

If you're choking and no one is around to help, you can perform a modified Heimlich maneuver on yourself. Put your fist on your upper abdomen, grab the fist with your other hand, and thrust upward until the object dislodges. You can also perform the thrusts by pressing your upper abdomen against the back of a chair, a table, or another fixed object.

After you've dislodged the object, get medical help immediately.

Watch this video to learn how to do the Heimlich manouvre


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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