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Updated August 12, 2013

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Statements & reports by medical & water safety organizations regarding the use of the Heimlich maneuver (abdominal thrusts) to revive near-drowning victims

(Peter) Heimlich said that the media “have incorrectly written that there’s a ‘controversy’ associated with the treatment. In fact, in the medical community, it’s my father vs. everyone else. That’s not a controversy, that’s one celebrity doctor -- someone who hasn’t worked in a hospital since 1976 and has no background in drowning except for his claims promoting the Heimlich maneuver -- making unsupported claims.” (Washington Post, June 3, 2011)

Per this article, in June 2012 -- after almost four decades -- my father's nonprofit Heimlich Institute finally stopped promoting the treatment.

Via United States Lifeguard Standards: An Evidence-based review and report by the United States Lifeguard Standards Coalition (American Red Cross, United States Lifesaving Association, YMCA), June 2011:

In the drowning process resuscitation, upper abdominal thrusts pose a greater risk of precipitating gastroesophageal regurgitation and subsequent aspiration. Upper abdominal thrusts do not expel sufficient water from the airway or lungs to assist in resuscitation. In addition, upper abdominal thrusts may delay and complicate the start of effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Via the
2010 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care Science:
There is no evidence that water acts as an obstructive foreign body. Maneuvers to relieve foreign-body airway obstruction (FBAO) are not recommended for drowning victims because such maneuvers are not necessary and they can cause injury, vomiting, aspiration, and delay of CPR.
Via Sub diaphragmatic Thrusts and Drowning Victims by the American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid and Safety (2006):
Studies have shown that there is no need to clear the airway of aspirated water. Only a modest amount of water is aspirated by the majority of drowning victims and it is rapidly absorbed into the central circulation. Therefore, it does not act as an obstruction in the trachea (Institute of Medicine Report (Rosen, Stoto, & Harley, 1995). It has also been shown that some victims do not aspirate fluid because they develop laryngospasm or experience breath-holding (Modell, 1993). An attempt to remove water from the breathing passages by any means other than suction (e.g., abdominal thrusts or the Heimlich maneuver) are unnecessary and potentially dangerous (Institute of Medicine Report, Rosen Stoto, & Harley, 1995). 

The routine use of abdominal thrusts for drowning victims is not recommended.

Via The Ship’s Medicine Chest and First Aid at Sea, US Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General (2003):
In clearing the airway prior to CPR, do not perform the Heimlich maneuver! The Heimlich maneuver has no role in drowning resuscitation, unless a solid foreign body obstructs the airway (this does not mean water or vomit) and ventilation is otherwise impossible. 
Via The Use of the Heimlich Maneuver in Near Drowning: Institute of Medicine Report by Peter Rosen MD, Michael Stoto PhD, and Jim Harley MD, The Journal of Emergency Medicine, The Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol 13, No 3, pp 397-405, 1995:
The application of the Heimlich maneuver as the initial and perhaps only step for opening the airway in all near-drowning victims has been proposed by Henry Heimlich and Edward Patrick, contrary to current resuscitation guidelines for the treatment of near-drowning victims established by the Emergency Cardiac Care (ECC) Committee of the American Heart Association. Although the Heimlich maneuver is useful for the removal of aspirated solid foreign bodies, there is no evidence that death from drowning is frequently caused by aspiration of a solid foreign body that is not effectively treated by the current ECC recommendations. Furthermore, the evidence is insufficient to support the proposition that the Heimlich maneuver is useful for the removal of aspirated liquid. Moreover, because there is no evidence to support Heimlich's hypothesis that substantial amounts of water are aspirated by near-drowning victims or that such aspirated liquid causes brain damage and death, the available evidence does not support routine use of the Heimlich maneuver in the care of near-drowning victims. The routine use of the Heimlich maneuver for treatment of near drowning raises several concerns: (a) the amount of time it would take to repeat this maneuver and how long this would delay the initiation of artificial ventilation; (b) possible complications of the Heimlich maneuver, especially if the near drowning is associated with a cervical fracture; and (c) the prospect of teaching rescue workers a different protocol than that which is taught at present for resuscitating victims of cardiopulmonary arrest from all causes other than near drowning.
Via International Life Saving Federation Medical Commission to address lifeguard questions about the value of using abdominal thrust to revive drowning/near drowning victims (1998):
The Medical Commission of the International Life Saving Federation has carefully considered the particular problems of upper airway management in near drowning. Techniques which have poor efficacy and purely anecdotal support are strongly discouraged.  Abdominal thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver) to relieve airway obstruction have been carefully considered and the following conclusions drawn:

* In near drowning upper abdominal thrusts pose a great risk of precipitating gastro-oesophageal regurgitation and subsequent inhalation of stomach contents into the lungs.

* There is no clear medical rationale for its use and in particular it seems clear that the manoeuvre cannot expel sufficient water from the lower portions of the respiratory tree to aid in resuscitation.

* There are no well controlled blind studies to validate its value in near drowning.

* The use of abdominal thrusts as a first maneuver will merely serve to delay the institution of appropriate cardiopulmonary resuscitation which has been well proven to save life in this condition.