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Nov 06, 2018

Why Women Are Less Likely to Receive CPR During Cardiac Arrest

Studies explore why women are less likely to receive lifesaving CPR when collapsing in public.

Women are less likely to receive lifesaving CPR during sudden cardiac arrest, often due to fear of injury or sexual assault, based on results of two studies to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Resuscitation Science Symposium 2018.

The first study, which was conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, used virtual reality to test how people respond when witnessing sudden cardiac arrest. This type of design was ideal, since responses to cardiac arrest in the real world are unexpected and hard to study, explains Marion Leary, MSN, MPH, lead study author and director of innovation research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Resuscitation Science. Experts hoped to learn more about bystander response and how to improve CPR training courses.

The study included 75 volunteers from the community who were asked to respond to a pedestrian collapsing in a busy city. Once they responded, a manikin was then placed in front of participants in real life, allowing them to perform CPR.

Even in this virtual reality, women were less likely to receive CPR after collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest than male victims. Unfortunately, these findings have been confirmed by other real-life studies that show women are less likely to receive CPR than men.

To address the issue, a second study surveyed the public about why women might be less likely to get CPR when they collapse in public. The study was conducted at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and included 54 online participants.

Overall, participants noted that it may be due to fear of causing physical injury or even fear of being accused of inappropriate touching or sexual assault. Responses also note the common misconception that breasts can make CPR more challenging or that women are less prone to cardiac arrest than men. For example, people may believe that women are less likely to have heart problems or could even be “faking” an incident.

“The consequences of all of these major themes is that women will potentially receive no CPR or delays in initiation of CPR,” said Sarah M. Perman, MD, MSCE, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and lead author on the survey study. “While these are actual fears the public holds, it is important to realize that CPR is lifesaving and should be rendered to collapsed individuals regardless of gender, race or ethnicity.”

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. While the survival rate is less than 12 percent, CPR can double or even triple a victim’s odds of surviving. It’s critical that all cardiac arrest victims receive CPR, regardless of their sex.

Simply put, “If you see someone collapse, call 911, begin CPR, and if there is an AED around, use it,” explains Leary, “Doing something is better than doing nothing.  You have the power to help save someone’s life.”

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.

Infographic: Sudden Cardiac Arrest


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