Women Less Likely Than Men to Receive CPR From Passerby

Embarrassment about mouth to mouth resuscitation and chest compressions has long been fodder for comedy skits but it is no laughing matter. Fox News reports that women suffering cardiac arrest are less likely to receive life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from a passerby.  There are two theories why this is the case. The first is that men may be hesitant to undo or manipulate the shirt of a woman they do not know and touch her breasts. The second is that men may be afraid of hurting a woman by pushing too hard on the center of her chest and sternum area. 

Is squeamishness about providing CPR to a stranger who happens to be a woman is costing lives?  Only 39 percent of women who suffer cardiac arrest in public receive CPR and the number for men is 45 percent. The end result is that men are 23 percent more likely to survive. Adding further credence to the theory, there was no gender discrepancy in CPR rates for individuals stricken at home. The study, which was funded by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, surveyed 20,000 cases. 

It has been argued that gender bias may be responsible for this disparity in outcomes. Audrey Blewer, the lead researcher of the study, noted that CPR practice mannequins are usually male torsos. The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Roger White, co-director of Rochester, Minnesota’s paramedic program, said that he had “long worried that large breasts may impede proper placement of defibrillator pads if women need a shock to restore normal heart rhythm.”

Everyone is capable of learning how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but according to the American Heart Association, 70 percent of people living in the U.S. feel helpless during an emergency. This is alarming as 88 percent of all cardiac arrests happen at home, meaning the person you save may be someone you love.

There are a couple simple ways of telling if someone needs CPR. Knowing when to give CPR is as important as knowing how. Be aware too that some criminals prey on empathetic people who may stop at the side of the road to help. This doesn't mean you shouldn't stop, but think twice about putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, and call emergency personnel prior to stopping.

Your response is important and may make the difference between life and death. Remember, you don't have to be perfect in order to make a difference in someone's life. Here are some of the signs you may look for to determine that someone may need CPR

Someone appears fine one minute and you see or hear them collapse.

You don't see or hear any respirations (breathing).

You check for a heartbeat at the carotid artery and can't find a pulse.

You don't get a response from shaking, yelling and otherwise looking for a response; look for eye movements, sounds from the mouth or movement of the arms or legs.

near drowning victim who is not responsive and/or doesn't appear to be breathing.

You witness an electrocution injury. Electricity may trigger an irregular heartbeat or stop the heart entirely.

You suspect drug use and the individual is not breathing or doesn't have a pulse.

You suspect exposure to large quantities of smoke, such as a burning building and the individual is unresponsive.




If bystander CPR is not performed, the survival rate drops by 7 percent every minute. If it takes 10 minutes for emergency personnel to attend to a cardiac arrest casualty, without bystander CPR, survival drops to 2 percent. There are several places in your community where you can learn and practice CPR. The Red Cross has a directory of CPR resources online that can help you find a class in your area. You can also contact the local police or fire department, or community recreation center for additional information. 

If you are concerned about your furry friend at home, this brief article by Dr. Karen Becker provides the basics about CPR and the Heimlich maneuver for pets.

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