Atrial fibrillation and normal or abnormal heart rate rythm concept as a cardiac disorder as a human organ with healthy and unhealthy ecg monitoring in a 3D illustration style to illustrate sudden cardiac death
Credit: wildpixel/Getty Images

Research from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center suggests women are actually at higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than men when sex-related body size differences are accounted for.

These results differ from earlier studies suggesting women are less likely to experience heart beat abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation than men.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart beat abnormality and by 2030, 12.1 million Americans are predicted to be affected. It results in an irregular heart beat and if not treated can result in death from stroke or heart failure.

“This is the first study to show an actual flip in the risk of atrial fibrillation,” said Christine Albert, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute and senior author of the JAMA Cardiology study describing the work.

The prospective cohort study included 25,119 individuals (51% women) who were aged 67 years on average and did not have heart disease on enrollment. Over a median follow up period of around five years, there were 900 recorded atrial fibrillation events in 495 men and 405 women.

Notably, after adjusting for factors such as age, treatment, comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, and thyroid disease, ethnicity, smoking, alcohol intake, exercise and body mass index, women appeared to be at around 27% lower risk for atrial fibrillation events than men.

However, if body mass index was substituted for height and weight the association was reversed and women were at 49% increased risk for atrial fibrillation. Similarly, if body surface area was corrected for instead of body mass index, then women were at 25% increased risk compared with men.

“Atrial fibrillation is a disease we want to prevent, regardless of sex or gender,” said Albert, in a press statement. “This informative study is an important step for the medical community to take note of, and begin discussing atrial fibrillation risk with all patients, whether male or female.”

Also of Interest