Approximately 2.2 million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (abbreviated afib) is a heart rhythm disorder, which causes the atria (top 2 chambers of the heart) to quiver and not empty completely. This can lead to blood clot formation in the top chambers of the heart. If these blood clots become dislodged they can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
Afib is more common in men but research studies have found that women have more complications than men and are not treated as aggressively. In the September 2009 issue of Gender Medicine an article was published evaluating 20 years worth of data collected on gender differences and afib. The summary found:
- Women are more likely than men to have a stroke when they develop afib
- Women are not prescribed blood thinning medications to prevent blood clots as often as men
- When women do receive blood thinners they are more likely to have bleeding problems
- When women are treated with antiarrhythmic medications (medications that try to control the irregular heart beat or slow a rapid heart beat) they are more likely to have adverse side effects than men
- Women are less likely to be referred for catheter ablation (a heart procedure that is used to try and block the abnormal electrical heart impulses and stop afib)
Future studies need to be conducted specifically on women to determine the best treatment methods for afib in order to prevent a stroke. Women with afib also need to be closely monitored by their health care providers and treatment options should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” discusses how women can help control their cholesterol and other risk factors to prevent a heart attack, stroke and diabetes. “Take Charge: A Man’s Roadmap to a Healthier Heart” is due to be released Fall 2009. For more info visit www.heart-strong.com