For a very long time, it was known that males were more likely to experience atrial fibrillation, one of the most prevalent forms of cardiac arrhythmias.
But the results of recent studies suggest that might not be the case.
After taking into consideration differences in height between the sexes, it was shown that women had a higher likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation (AFib) than males. This is a substantial shift from the conventional way of thinking about the problem, which can lead to a stroke, heart failure, and other complications connected to the heart.
Erica Engelstein, MD, who works at RUSH and specializes in cardiology and electrophysiology, was not surprised.
She think, just generally speaking, that atrial fibrillation is an increasingly widespread condition nowadays because we live longer. Doctors actually diagnose more cases of atrial fibrillation in women than in men since age is such a significant risk factor and women generally live longer than men.
Women had a 50% higher risk of developing AFib than males do, if height is taken into consideration, according to the VITAL Rhythm Trial conducted by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Hospital and Harvard University. But even while women may be at a greater risk, Engelstein emphasized that there are numerous other risk factors for acquiring the illness; furthermore, certain risk variables have a much stronger relationship to AFib than others.
According to her, hypertension, diabetes, overweight, alcohol, and sleep apnea are some of the very strong, and most importantly, modifiable, risk factors for atrial fibrillation. Sleep apnea is another risk factor that can be treated.
The treatment of atrial fibrillation in women is significantly different from the treatment of atrial fibrillation in males. Women have a greater chance of having a stroke as a result of AFib, and they may require blood thinners earlier than males do in order to prevent strokes. In addition, many anti-AFib drugs may pose a larger risk of serious cardiac rhythm abnormalities in the lower chambers of the heart when taken by women than when taken by males. This increased risk is connected with the fact that women are more likely to have AFib than men.
According to Engelstein, when treating women, they typically experience more troubles because certain drugs can create more problems in women than in males.
A fast and irregular heartbeat in the upper chambers of the heart is the primary symptom of atrial fibrillation (AFib). In a healthy person, the beginning of a heartbeat occurs at a particular location in the upper chambers of the heart known as the sinus node. From there, the beat travels to the lower chambers of the heart through specialized electrical cables. The top chambers of the heart “quiver” instead of beating when a patient has atrial fibrillation (AFib), and a fast rhythm originates from all areas of the upper chambers rather than from a single location.
According to Engelstein, some people can live with atrial fibrillation for months or even years without being aware that they have the disorder, while others might get the disease and instantly have severe symptoms.
She stated that about half of the patients may not experience any symptoms at the beginning, and half of the patients will feel it the second they go into atrial fibrillation. Those who are affected by the condition often report having palpitations and irregular or fast heartbeats. The effects are the same for people with atrial fibrillation, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.
In some people, the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as chest tightness, shortness of breath when exercising, fatigue, or lightheadedness, are not experienced during the atrial fibrillation itself but rather as a result of the condition. If treatment is not obtained for atrial fibrillation, there is a significant risk that the condition will repeat at a later time.
There are various risk factors for atrial fibrillation, and fortunately, these risk factors may be addressed in both women and men in order to lower the chance of atrial fibrillation in those individuals.
Regular exercise and keeping a normal body weight are just two examples. If you have hypertension, it is necessary that you keep it under control at all times. Check for sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances, and get treatment for sleep apnea if you find that you do have it, according to the researchers.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and protein that is low in fat was another one of Engelstein’s dietary recommendations. According to Engelstein, another helpful strategy is to refrain from drinking alcohol.
She stated that she did not believe there was any level of alcohol that could be considered safe when it comes to atrial fibrillation. People who are genetically prone to atrial fibrillation can have the condition triggered by as little as a single drink.
Engelstein emphasized that whether you are a woman or a man, your risk of AFib grows as you get older. Because of this, prevention and receiving the appropriate therapy as early as possible are the keys to preventing the formation of AFib or the recurrence of the condition. Wearable monitors that may detect atrial fibrillation are now widely accessible, and they are playing an increasingly important role in the diagnosis and management of the illness. Some examples of these monitors are watches.
There is growing evidence that if we intervene early enough—with lifestyle modifications, risk factor reduction, and treatments—we can prevent the course of the illness and have a longer-term impact on patients.
Siddiqi, H. K., Vinayagamoorthy, M., Gencer, B., Ng, C., Pester, J., Cook, N. R., Lee, I. M., Buring, J., Manson, J. E., & Albert, C. M. (2022). Sex Differences in Atrial Fibrillation Risk: The VITAL Rhythm Study. JAMA cardiology, 7(10), 1027–1035. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamacardio.2022.2825