cardiac arrest, caregiver, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, qualitative research, spouse



  1. Larsen, Malene Kaas PhD
  2. Mikkelsen, Randi MScPH
  3. Budin, Susanne Holst MSc
  4. Lamberg, Dorte Nees MSc
  5. Thrysoe, Lars PhD
  6. Borregaard, Britt PhD


Background: Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) imposes significant consequences for a family, but little is known about relatives' experiences.


Objective: Our aim was to explore relatives' experiences with the OHCA and the following months after.


Method: A qualitative approach using phenomenological-hermeneutic methodology was applied. Data consisted of semistructured interviews with 12 relatives of OHCA survivors. We analyzed data based on Paul Ricoeur's theory of interpretation.


Results: Relatives experienced OHCA as an abrupt and stressful event filled with imposing concerns for the cardiac arrest survivor. Relatives were fellow sufferers confronted with the possibility of bereavement, watching from the sideline with fearful eyes. After the OHCA, relatives experienced a troubled time with anxiety and edginess, monitoring the survivor for signs of a new cardiac arrest and trying to adapt to a new normality. Relatives' previous identities and positions within their families were disrupted.


Conclusion: Relatives were challenged with the OHCA and the trajectory after it, experiencing a high level of distress and anxiety. Relatives took on an immense responsibility, always watching the survivor for potential symptoms of a new cardiac arrest. The cardiac arrest and the survivor's possible cognitive impairments gave rise to assuming a new authority as a relative. We advocate for a new family approach to relatives, acknowledging relatives' stress and central role in supporting cardiac arrest survivors.