Key Takeaways

    • Providing CPR, namely chest compressions, gives people experiencing cardiac arrest the very best chance of survival.
    • The benefits of CPR clearly outweigh any potential harm.
    • Providing CPR may leave you feeling distressed. If you experience acute stress, you should reach out for help.
Did CPR help or hurt my loved one?

Providing CPR can be very stressful. After the cardiac arrest, many people wonder if they helped or harmed the person they performed CPR on. When you provide chest compressions, you help pump blood to the brain and give the person in cardiac arrest the very best chance of survival. Any potential harm associated with chest compressions is greatly outweighed by the chance of survival. Without chest compressions, death is almost certain. Though there is indeed a remote chance of harm (usually very minor) from chest compressions, like broken ribs, these are easily managed and often acceptable to the survivor. And if we don’t give chest compressions, we don’t give our loved one the best chance of survival. 

Chest compressions are so important that emergency call takers, the 911 (US)/999 (Canada) operators, often coach people to give them while they wait for the ambulance and paramedics to arrive.

Co-survivor insight: “The 911 call taker and I became instant partners. He was my coach. He told me what to do, let me know EMS was on the way and was with me until help arrived. I didn’t feel like I was all alone.”

Some of us provided our loved ones chest compressions when they were in cardiac arrest. For a few, it resulted in survival, and for others, our loved ones died despite our best efforts. None of us regret our efforts, and we don’t think you should either. 

However, providing CPR leaves some people feeling acute stress and anxiety. When ordinary people respond to cardiac arrest by becoming lay rescuers and providing CPR, they often feel a whirlwind of hope, euphoria, pride, relief, satisfaction, hopelessness, doubt, agitation, anger, sadness, and fear after. When the attempt is unsuccessful and the victim dies, the acute stress can be worse than if they survived. If you are feeling acute stress, intrusive thoughts, poor concentration, or poor sleep, you may benefit from reaching out to friends and family, a therapist, or peer support from online groups like

Co-survivor insight: “I did CPR on Grandpa, I beat the ambulance there since Grandma called me first. I was really scared I was hurting him and that I wasn’t doing the right thing. Now I know I gave Grandpa the very best chance of survival. It still messed me up a bit though, I needed some therapy to talk through it all. It is heavy stuff.”


Skora J, Riegel B. Thoughts, feelings, and motivations of bystanders who attempt to resuscitate a stranger: a pilot study.Am J Crit Care. 2001; 10:408–416.

Compton S, Grace H, Madgy A, Swor RA. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptomology associated with witnessing unsuccessful out-of-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Acad Emerg Med. 2009; 16:226–229. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00336.x

Thank you to our contributors

Matthew Douma

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