Women face greater odds of death if they suffer a cardiac arrest

Women are more likely to die if they have a cardiac arrest in public ‘because people fear performing CPR on them could be seen as sexual assault’

  • A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood
  • Some 68% of women cardiac arrest patients received CPR from a bystander 
  • In comparison, the figure was 73% for men, according to the Dutch experts
  • They warned bystanders simply do not expect women to suffer heart problems 

Women are less likely than men to receive life-saving CPR in a public place if they suffer a cardiac arrest, research suggests. 

Dutch scientists found 73 per cent of men who had public cardiac arrests received CPR from a bystander – but only 68 per cent of women did.

Fears touching a woman’s chest may be seen as sexual harassment may put people off from helping to restart their heart, scientists say.

An expert commenting on the study also claimed that bystanders may be scared of hurting ‘frail’ women by performing CPR.

Dutch researchers warned bystanders simply do not expect women to suffer heart problems and that early signs are easier to spot in men

The researchers warned people are less likely to realise the seriousness of a woman’s condition and may be slower to realise they need help. 

This may lead to delays in calling the emergency services, hindering the survival chances of female patients.

The British Heart Foundation said the finding that women were seven per cent less likely to get CPR from a member of the public was ‘worrying’. 

A cardiac arrest happens when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. They are more serious than heart attacks. 

Figures show more than 30,000 cardiac arrests occur each year outside of hospital in the UK, compared to 355,000 in the US. 

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam analysed 5,717 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in one part of the Netherlands between 2006 and 2012.  

They found around 12.5 per cent of women who were resuscitated survived to be discharged from hospital, compared to 20 per cent of men.


Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be used to try to restart someone’s heart if it has stopped.

CPR should only be used in an emergency situation if someone is unconscious and not breathing.

People without CPR training should stick to hands-only chest compressions, the NHS says.

To carry out a chest compression:

Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person’s chest. Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers.

Position yourself with your shoulders above your hands.

Using your body weight (not just your arms), press straight down by 5-6cm (2-2.5 inches) on their chest.

Keeping your hands on their chest, release the compression and allow the chest to return to its original position.

Repeat these compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute until an ambulance arrives or you become exhausted. 

Source: NHS 

The researchers suggested this was most likely to be down to delays in calling an ambulance and starting CPR on women.

Lead author Dr Hanno Tan said: ‘Given the short window available to save the life of the patient, every minute in this early phase counts.

‘Help, if only a call to the emergency number by a lay person, is crucial.’

‘People may be less aware that cardiac arrest can occur as often in women as in men, and the women themselves may not recognise the urgency of their symptoms.

‘Women may have symptoms of an impending heart attack that are less easy to interpret, such as fatigue, fainting, vomiting and neck or jaw pain.’

He added that men are more likely to report typical complaints such as chest pain. 

Dr Sarah Perman, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, offered another explanation for the finding.

She said similar studies have shown that there is ‘over sexualisation of women’s bodies’. However, she was not involved in the study.

Dr Perman added many ‘feel hesitant to provide CPR if there is a notion they are doing something incorrect that was perceived to be sexual assault or harassment’.

She said people are more likely to think a woman has just fainted, and said many have a ‘fear of causing injury because women are more frail’.

Sara Askew, head of survival at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This new insight is particularly worrying.

‘We already know that women who have suffered a heart attack are less likely to receive the appropriate treatment.

‘Now, it appears the case is the same for women who have cardiac arrests. 

‘Regardless of gender, the overall survival rate for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is shockingly less than one in 10.

‘Every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation reduces the chance of survival by up to 10 per cent.’

Ms Askew added that this is ‘why knowing how to perform CPR is essential and doing something is always better than doing nothing’. 

The research was published in the European Heart Journal. 


A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, which is usually due to a problem with electrical signals in the organ.

This causes the brain to be starved of oxygen, which results in sufferers not breathing and losing consciousness.

In the UK, more than 30,000 cardiac arrests occur a year outside of hospital, compared to over 356,000 in the US.

Cardiac arrests are different to heart attacks, with the latter occurring when blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off due to a clot in one of the coronary arteries.

Common causes include heart attacks, heart disease and heart muscle inflammation.

Drug overdose and losing a large amount of blood can also be to blame.

Giving an electric shock through the chest wall via a defibrillator can start the heart again.

In the meantime, CPR can keep oxygen circulating around the body.

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