How can coughing cause my father’s unusual episodes?

Hi. My dad had a CABG performed 10 days ago. He is 69. Before the surgery he was having quite a bad cough but the doc said it’s ok, we can still have the surgery. However a week after the surgery, whenever he coughs, he has these episodes where he goes into a ‘frozen’ state, eyes and mouth wide open. This episode usually lasts for 10 secs or so and after that he is back to normal. Interestingly, he doesn’t even remember what happened in those 10 secs. Just to let you know before surgery he was also diagnosed with carotid artery blockage of 40% which still lingers. The docs say that these episodes are only due to the cough so all they have to do is treat the cough. I’m not sure if that makes a lot of sense, would appreciate if you could please advise. How can a normal cough lead to such an episode? Is it going to happen every time he coughs in his lifetime? What’s causing the oxygen not to travel to the brain when he coughs…shouldn’t that be treated?

Submitted by Ali from Dubai on 07/06/2014

by Denton A. Cooley, MD

The symptoms you describe are probably temporary in his overall recovery from heart surgery, and the cough reflex should subside. The carotid artery may be of no consequence nor related to the reaction to his cough.