Bystanders are less likely to give women CPR than men

Women are less likely than men to receive CPR from bystanders if they have a heart attack, according to a team of Canadian researchers.

The study of nearly 40,000 patients, which isn’t yet peer-reviewed, has been presented at the European Emergency Medicine Congress.

It found women were less likely to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in general, and particularly if the heart attack happened in a public place. Older people and older men in particular were less likely to receive CPR in private places.

“In an emergency when someone is unconscious and not breathing properly, in addition to calling an ambulance, bystanders should give CPR. This will give the patient a much better chance of survival and recovery,” says Dr Alexis Cournoyer, an emergency medicine physician and researcher at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal.

The researchers examined records of cardiac arrests that occurred outside a hospital between 2005 and 2015 in the USA and Canada.

“We carried out this study to try to uncover factors that might discourage people from delivering CPR, including any factors that might deter people from giving CPR to a woman,” says Dr Sylvie Cossette, a PhD nurse researcher at the Montreal Heart Institute research centre.

In total, the researchers had records of 39,391 patients, checking the place the cardiac arrest occurred, the age and gender of patients, and whether any bystanders performed CPR on them.

Just over half (54%) of patients in total received CPR from a bystander: 52% of women and 55% of men.

But in public places like streets, the gap was wider. There, 61% of women received CPR compared to 68% of men.

In private settings like homes, older people were less likely to receive CPR: every 10-year increase in age led to a 9% decrease in the likelihood of CPR for men, and a 3% decrease for women.

The researchers say they don’t know why women are less likely to receive CPR.

“It could be that people are worried about hurting or touching women, or that they think a woman is less likely to be having a cardiac arrest,” says Cournoyer.

“We wondered if this imbalance would be even worse in younger women, because bystanders may worry even more about physical contact without consent, but this was not the case.”

Cossette says that more research into the reason could help to ensure everyone, regardless of age or gender, receives CPR when needed.

“CPR saves lives, but sadly not everyone who suffers a cardiac arrest will get the CPR they need. This study gives us some clues about why that’s the case,” says Professor Youri Yordanov, congress abstract committee chair and researcher at the St Antoine Hospital emergency department, France, who wasn’t involved in the research.

“A cardiac arrest can happen anytime and anywhere, so we all need to learn CPR and to be willing to perform it without hesitation.”

An Australian study published in 2020 also suggested that the community would benefit from more first aid training.

“There is a need to improve the community’s understanding of cardiac arrest, and to increase awareness and training in CPR. CPR training rates have not changed over the past decades—new initiatives are needed,” wrote the authors.

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Please login to favourite this article.