Why bystanders fail to give CPR to women

The Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health recently funded a study examining cases of cardiac arrest suffered by Americans in public places. Cardiac arrest is a condition in which one’s heart unexpectedly stops functioning. It affects more than 350,000 people each year in this country and proves fatal in about 90 percent of cases. However, if a person who suffers cardiac arrest receives CPR, their chances of survival can be increased two- or even three-fold.

The study found that if a person suffers cardiac arrest in a public place, and that person is a woman, she is less likely to receive CPR from a bystander. Researchers say that concern about touching a woman’s chest may be deterring many bystanders from giving female victims the life-saving resuscitation they need. Could this era of heightened caution to avoid sexually-construed actions actually be leading to wrongful death?

Researchers note the commonly held misconception that performing CPR may involve touching a woman’s breasts or removing clothing to gain better access. However, correctly performed CPR doesn’t involve these things. Instead, CPR involves exerting force onto the sternum, and researchers say it can be performed without touching a woman’s private areas.

The study also suggests that first aid training may require revisions, including practicing CPR on female mannequins so that people feel less worried about performing CPR on women.

There were no notable gender differences discovered in cases of cardiac arrest occurring in hospitals or at home. For hospital settings, this data shouldn’t be surprising, as medical professionals are thoroughly trained in performing CPR. Researchers also believe that CPR administration is more equal in a home setting because people are less hesitant to perform CPR on people they already know.

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