Emotional Impact of Cardiac Arrest: Are Women at Higher Risk?

Surviving a sudden cardiac arrest is just the first step in what can be a long and difficult recovery process, both physically and emotionally. While we know that many cardiac arrest survivors struggle with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and cognitive issues, new research suggests these emotional challenges may disproportionately affect women.

In a study published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, researchers in Denmark followed 288 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survivors for three months after their resuscitation. The patients, 82% men and 18% women completed questionnaires and cognitive testing to assess anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and brain function.

The findings?

Women reported significantly higher rates of anxiety symptoms and PTSD than men.

Let’s dive into the details.

Anxiety Running High in Female Survivors

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Using a standard questionnaire called the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the researchers measured symptoms of anxiety and depression.

They found:

  • 36% of women had significant anxiety symptoms, compared to just 20% of men
  • In analysis adjusting for factors like age and arrest characteristics, a woman’s odds of having anxiety symptoms were 2.2 times higher than a man’s

The difference was even more striking in younger survivors. Women under age 55 were 3.3 times more likely than same-aged men to experience anxiety.

Why might women be more vulnerable? The researchers suggest biological factors like hormones and differences in how men and women perceive and report distressing events.

PTSD More Prevalent in Women Too

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Looking at symptoms of PTSD measured by the PTSD Checklist, a startling 61% of women met the criteria for probable PTSD diagnosis. Only 31% of men reached that threshold.

Sudden cardiac arrest is highly traumatic, both for the survivor and loved ones witnessing it. The immense psychological stress can leave survivors feeling anxious, depressed, and having nightmares or intrusive thoughts – classic PTSD symptoms. While the reasons are unclear, this study confirms women may be particularly susceptible.

No Gender Gap in Depression or Cognitive Function

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There was no significant difference between genders in rates of depression symptoms after cardiac arrest. Cognitive testing also showed similar levels of brain function impairment in male and female survivors.

On average though, both groups showed relatively high burden of emotional distress and “brain fog.” Almost half had probable PTSD, and around one-third had cognitive deficits – underscoring how recovering from a cardiac arrest impacts far more than just the heart.

Importance of Emotional Support

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The high emotional toll following sudden cardiac arrest, especially for women, highlights the critical need for psychological support and rehabilitation. Dr Johannes Grand, the study’s lead author, emphasises:

Anxiety is an important part of post-cardiac arrest rehabilitation, as mental health significantly impacts quality of life and daily functioning. Identifying high-risk groups allows us to target specialised care to those most in need.”

He notes that young females, in particular, may require intensive psychological follow-up after surviving cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is devastating, both for the patient and their loved ones who witnessed the traumatic event. Family members and close friends, known as “co-survivors,” often struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and disruptive life changes themselves. Peer support groups connecting survivors and co-survivors can provide invaluable understanding and community.

The road to recovery after sudden cardiac arrest is long and difficult, but patients don’t have to walk it alone. We can support survivors’ complete healing by prioritising emotional and cognitive health alongside physical rehabilitation.


This important study from Denmark reveals some sobering truths about the aftermath of surviving sudden cardiac arrest:

  1. Anxiety and PTSD are extremely common, affecting around one-third to one-half of all survivors.
  2. Women appear to be at significantly higher risk for anxiety and PTSD than men, especially younger females.
  3. Cognitive impairments like memory loss and trouble concentrating are prevalent regardless of gender.
  4. Focused psychological support, rehabilitation, and physical care are crucial for full recovery.
  5. Connecting with other survivors can provide invaluable peer support through this traumatic life experience.

Have you or a loved one struggled with anxiety, PTSD, or brain fog following a sudden cardiac arrest?

What has helped you or them cope with the emotional impact?

Share your experiences in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Emotional Impact of Cardiac Arrest: Are Women at Higher Risk?”

  1. After the first arrest I was fine. I found humour and gratefulness of still being here and started to recover well. Four weeks after the first I had another cardiac arrest. This time I felt it and knew what was happening. I passed out, then I received 2 shocks from my ICD which had brought me back around. It was this episode that really knocked me for 6. I had never experienced anxiety before and suffered from PTSD. Sleeping was really difficult and I’d often wake up startled and afraid. Time has helped ❤️‍🩹 I’m almost 6 months on from the second episode and my mind is healing. Thank you for this leaflet. It is very helpful and explains a lot 😊

  2. I went into cardiac arrest last November when I went into anaphylaxis during knee surgery. I haven’t had any support or advice, my GP surgery only did an ECG a fortnight ago when I started to question the impact of the cardiac arrest on my heart. I’m really only just starting to mentally process the whole event, the anaphylaxis, being aware while under a general anaesthetic in ICU (I thought I’d had a stroke, I was completely paralysed but could hear everything). I have PTSD, still waiting for secondary MH service appointment, waiting for allergy testing and now an echocardiagram. No advice or support from anyone or any NHS provider on this. To say I feel completely alone and unsupported is an understatement.


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