AFib, or atrial fibrillation, a problem with the way the heart beats, is the most common cause of stroke in both men and women. But some recent studies have shown it might be even more dangerous for women.
AFib is caused when the atria, the two top chambers of the heart, fibrillate (or beat) irregularly or too quickly. Because the chambers don’t contract strongly, blood is allowed to pool in the heart. This increases the chance of clotting.
Men are more likely to get AFib than women, but it’s the most common heart rhythm abnormality in women.
More Research Needed
Research into the differences between AFib in men and women has been increasing lately, but there are still more questions than answers.
One recent study showed women were an average of four years older than men when they developed AFib. While the likelihood of having a stroke was about the same, the risk of death was higher for women who developed atrial fibrillation.
One reason may be that the blood-thinner warfarin is prescribed less often to elderly women because they are considered at higher risk of falls. The drug also seems to be less consistent in women. A recently introduced class of blood thinners may help address this problem.
Another international survey of 4.4 million people showed that women with AFib have a 12 percent higher chance of death from all causes and almost double the chance of having or dying from a stroke.
AFib May Not Cause Symptoms
Women with AFib often don’t have symptoms. If atrial fibrillation causes signs, they may include:
- Heart palpitations or a feeling the heart is fluttering or beating too fast
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swelling in legs and ankles
The most common risk factor for AFib is high blood pressure.
AFib symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions, as well. Unfortunately, if a woman develops signs, she may think they’re caused by getting older and not report them to a doctor until the disease has advanced.
That’s why it’s important for all women to be aware of AFib. Be sure to see your physician regularly and report any suspicious symptoms early. Ask if you should be examined by a cardiologist, especially if you have high blood pressure.
Dr. Chung Yoon is a board-certified cardiologist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus. His clinical interests include noninvasive cardiology, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology and preventive cardiology.