“This is the first study to show an actual flip in the risk of atrial fibrillation,” said Christine Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute and senior author of the JAMA Cardiology study. Albert also led the national VITAL Rhythm Trial upon which these findings are based. “In this population of 25,000 individuals without prior heart disease, after adjusting for differences in height, women were at higher risk for developing AF than their male counterparts – upward of 50%.” As Albert explains, the taller an individual is, the more at risk they are for AFib. This is why women have been shown to have a lower risk of the disease, since they tend to be shorter than men.
“Our study, however, surprisingly suggests that if a man and a woman have the same height, the woman would be more likely to develop AFib,” said Albert. “Now the question has changed: Instead of why are women protected, now we must seek to understand why women are at a higher risk.” Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm and, without treatment, can lead to stroke or heart failure. Once a woman is diagnosed with AFib, she is more likely to experience one of these adverse consequences than a man, making AFib prevention exceedingly important in women.
Patients diagnosed with the condition can be treated with blood thinners and outpatient procedures such as cardioversion or ablation, or heart surgery, but women are less likely to undergo invasive treatments for AFib such as ablation. It’s estimated that by the year 2030, more than 12.1 million Americans will have the condition. Albert notes that as the general population increases in size – both in height and weight – cardiologists can expect that more individuals will be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.
“With incidence on the rise, it’s more imperative than ever to be offering preventive strategies and early diagnostic interventions to all patients,” said Albert, professor of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai and the Lee and Harold Kapelovitz Distinguished Chair in Cardiology.