Bystanders Are Less Likely to Give Women CPR Because of Breasts

Sexism isn’t just a nuisance to women, sometimes it literally kills us. A study by University of Pennsylvania researchers shows that women are less likely than men to receive CPR by bystanders. The researchers believe this is due in no small part to breasts.

The study involved nearly 20,000 cases of cardiac arrest to analyze how gender affected the likelihood of people receiving help from public bystanders compared to professional responders.

They found that only 39 percent of women who suffered cardiac arrest in public were given CPR compared to 45 percent of men. Men were also 23 percent more likely to survive.

The researchers posited that it can be “daunting” for strangers to push on a woman’s chest and are uncomfortable with the idea of possibly moving her clothes or hurting her.

According to Dr. Benjamin Abella, you shouldn’t have to touch a woman’s breasts if you’re doing CPR properly.

“You put your hands on the sternum, which is the middle of the chest,” says Abella. “In theory, you’re touching in between the breasts.”

It shouldn’t actually matter, though, either way. A woman having breasts shouldn’t prevent someone from trying to save her life.

“This is not a time to be squeamish because it’s a life and death situation,” said Abella.

Over 350,000 Americans experience a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting. Ninety percent of those people die, but CPR can double or even triple the odds of survival.

Because there were no gender differences in CPR rates for people who suffer a cardiac arrest at home, the researchers believe that fear of touching women they don’t know prevent people from taking live-saving action.

The research suggests that one source of the problem is CPR training itself. Most people learning CPR in a course will be given a mannequin with a cis-male torso to practice on. It’s not surprising that in an emergency, people might be a little uncertain performing CPR on a female body when they’ve never practiced that in a non-emergency setting.

Using male bodies as a default in these kinds of situations may seem harmless, but there are consequences to not anticipating how science and medicine affect women’s bodies differently.

Seatbelts and airbags, for instance, are designed with male bodies in mind. For women, this means a 47 percent higher likelihood of serious injuries during a car accident, even after controlling for other factors.

What keeps men healthy and safe may not do the same for women. Our CPR mannequins and crash test dummies, among other things, should be designed to keep all of us safer, not just some.

Photo Credit: Flickr

81 comments

Tanya W
Tanya Wyesterday

Thank you for sharing

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Tanya W
Tanya Wyesterday

I would think that if you were saving a life, you'd have not enough time to be concerned about breasts or not!!! Sternum is the area you should be aiming for.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson11 days ago

Thank you.

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JT Smith
JT Smith11 days ago

One of the fears for men is that because women's breasts are socially considered sexual in nature and the litigious nature of American society as a whole, the fear is that they'll be sued for "copping a feel" when all they were trying to do is actually help save a life. To exacerbate matters, it's getting to the point that simple accusation is sufficient to assume guilt, and just as not all males are enlightened, neither are all women.

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Eric L
Eric Lees12 days ago

@Leanne K
"Oh yes... and besides CPR is hard, i had difficulty even compressing the dummy that its put me off"

Lenne, I think that's more to do with technique. You might have been leaning back with less of your weight over their chest or bending your arms too much.

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Eric L
Eric Lees12 days ago

I'm trained in CPR but have never had to put it to use fortunately. I don't think the hesitation has to do with breasts but liability. People especially in the USA are to quick to sue. The Good Samaritan law should protect you but still.

A bigger problem is some groups like have changed CPR training. In an effort to make it easier they have eliminated the breath portion. Which results in a much lower chance of survival.

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Carole R
Carole R13 days ago

Yes, CPR is hard. But to choose not to try to save someone just because they're female, is stupid.

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Leanne K
Leanne K14 days ago

Oh yes... and besides CPR is hard, i had difficulty even compressing the dummy that its put me off

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Freya H
Freya H14 days ago

If ever I need CPR, sexual harassment will be the LAST thing on my mind. Gratitude will be the first.

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Liliana G
Liliana Garcia14 days ago

Thanks! This is the kind of article that attracted me to C2 years ago!

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