Women need to be aware of this serious heart arrhythmia because early detection is important.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. This irregular heart rhythm can cause blood clots to form in the heart, increasing the risk of stroke and heart-related complications if it is not treated. Are women at risk for this condition? And what happens if you have it? Read on for answers to common questions about women and AFib.
Are women more at risk for AFib than men?
Up until recently, it was believed that men were more likely to develop AFib than women, but new research shows that after adjusting for differences in height, a woman’s risk of developing AFib is higher than a man’s, according to a study published in JAMA Cardiology. It had previously been assumed that women had some protection against AFib, but they don’t. Being taller increases the risk for AFib, but if a woman and a man are the same height, the woman is more likely to develop the condition.
What complications does AFib cause if not treated?
The chaotic rhythm of AFib makes it more likely that blood clots will form in the heart. This puts you at a greater risk of having a stroke, heart failure or other heart-related complications if the condition is not treated. Since women often aren't diagnosed with AFib as early as men with the condition are, it puts women at greater risk of developing these complications.
Another complication of AFib for women is that it has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline, as reported recently in Alzheimer’s & Dementia. The study showed that women with Afib were more likely to have mild cognitive impairment and dementia compared to women without AFib and men with or without AFib.
Why is it important for women to know they may be at risk for AFib?
AFib often doesn’t cause any symptoms. When it does, the most common symptoms are palpitations and shortness of breath. Even when women have AFib symptoms, healthcare professionals often attribute the symptoms to stress or anxiety. This can cause women to be diagnosed with the condition later than men, or not at all. Missing an AFib diagnosis can be very dangerous because treating AFib helps prevent serious complications like stroke, heart issues, cognitive decline and even death.
What should you do if you think you may have AFib?
If you have any symptoms of AFib or have other reasons to think you may have the condition, talk to your doctor and ask to be screened. If your doctor or cardiologist doesn’t take your symptoms or concerns seriously enough to do an evaluation, find another doctor. It’s risky to not properly identify AFib if you have it.
What are the treatments for AFib?
Treatment for AFib may include blood-thinning medications or procedures such as ablation or cardioversion. Although AFib itself usually isn’t life-threatening, the complications it may cause due to the development of blood clots may be. This is why it’s so important to be diagnosed and treated for the condition as early as possible.
For information on St. Joseph’s Morrissey Family Heart and Vascular Institute, please visit www.dignityhealth.org/stockton/heart or to take a health risk assessment, please visit here.