Irregular Heart Beat In Women More Deadly Than It Is For Men

Irregular heart beat in women is linked with a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and death than it is for men.

Medical News Today reports that irregular heart beat in women — also known as “atrial fibrillation” (AF) — is escalating in both developed and developing countries. An estimated 33.5 million people were affected worldwide in 2010, and had an age-adjusted mortality rate of 1.7 per 100,000 people.

Researchers are finding evidence that women experience different symptoms than men when it comes to other health risk factors, such as diabetes, smoking, and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

There’s a possibility that treatments might have to be divided into gender categories.

A team of international researchers wanted to look closer at AF, CVD, and death in both women and men. They then wanted to compare them side-by-side. A meta-analysis of 30 studies concluded between January, 1966, and March, 2015, involved more than 4 million participants. In each of the studies, there were at least 50 participants with AF and 50 without. They reported gender-specific associations between AF and “all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, stroke, cardiac events — including cardiac death and non-fatal myocardial infarction — and heart failure,” according to the report.

Irregular heart beat in women was associated with a 12 percent higher relative risk of all-cause mortality in women. It also showed a far stronger risk for stroke, cardiovascular mortality, cardiac issues, and heart failure. It’s unclear why there are gender differences in the AF studies.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently recommended more aggressive treatments for women with AF.

News Max reports that women with AF also are 93 percent more at risk to die from a heart condition, 55 percent more at risk to suffer a heart attack, 16 percent more more at risk to develop heart failure, and 12 percent more at risk to die from any cause when compared to men.

Review author Connor Emdin is a doctoral student in cardiovascular epidemiology at England’s University of Oxford’s George Institute for Global Health. He said that this study “adds to a growing body of literature showing that women may experience cardiovascular diseases and risk factors differently than men.”

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum is the director of women’s heart health for the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She says one of the reasons for women doing worse with an irregular heartbeat might have to do with them not having as prevalent as symptoms men do. She said that it’s “reasonable to consider that it’s diagnosed later, or it’s not as recognized or that the symptoms are not the same.”

Those feelings of fatigue, shortness of breath, stress, or feeling exhausted might be warning signs of heart disease instead.

Dr. Christopher Granger, a cardiologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., concurs that symptoms of AF might not be as easy to identify in women as it is for men. He adds that there’s a problem with lacking proper treatment for both men and women with the condition.

“Most of them should be on an anticoagulant [anti-clotting drugs] to prevent stroke, and many of them are not,” Granger said. “That’s even more of a concern in women than in men because, as this study shows, they are at higher risk for dangerous and even deadly complications.”

It’s noted in the report that these were not clinical trials and a direct cause-and-effect link wasn’t drawn, Emdin said. He said it may be that the associations they document “are not casual, and that women with atrial fibrillation are more likely to have comorbidities [co-existing medical conditions] in addition to atrial fibrillation that cause death and cardiovascular disease.”

The experts in the study urge women with AF to focus on improving their health with regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, managing their stress, and controlling their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Emdin explains that the latest research has shown lifestyle modifications can reduce the severity of AF. He added that if women haven’t already consulted with their health care provider about the use of anticoagulant therapy, they should.

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