When Height Is Considered, Women Are 50% More Likely to Experience Atrial Fibrillation

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on September 20th, 2022 in News, Myths & Tips

Every year, over 454,000 people are hospitalized for atrial fibrillation in the United States. This is a condition in which the individual experiences a very rapid and irregular heart rhythm, which can lead to blood clots.

Until recently, it was believed that men were more prone to developing atrial fibrillation than women. However, a new study by the Smidt Heart Institute of Cedars-Sinai found that,  when height is accounted for, women have a 50% greater risk of suffering from this heart condition. Researchers suggest healthcare providers must be vigilant in promoting atrial fibrillation prevention, as well as early intervention, among both female and male patients.

"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%. This is the first study to show an actual flip in the risk of atrial fibrillation," said Christine Albert, MD, MPH, senior author of the study and chair of the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute. According to the new findings, the taller a person is, the greater their risk of atrial fibrillation is. Since women tend to be shorter than men, scientists believed that men were more susceptible to this heart condition than women.

Furthermore, researchers discovered that if a man and a woman had the same height, the latter would still be at higher risk for atrial fibrillation. Therefore, now that it was found that women who are taller are 50% more likely to experience this condition, researchers must understand why they have a higher risk. As the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm, atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke or heart failure in the absence of treatment. Roughly 158,000 people die of atrial fibrillation annually nationwide. Once a woman is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, she is more susceptible to experiencing one of these potentially fatal complications than a man.

By 2030, over 12 million Americans will live with atrial fibrillation

As the population increases in size, both in height and weight, cardiologists expect more individuals to be diagnosed with the condition. "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. Maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure under control, limiting alcohol intake, and exercising moderately are the most effective preventive strategies against atrial fibrillation in both sexes.

People who have atrial fibrillation can be treated with blood thinners and outpatient procedures such as cardioversion, ablation, or heart surgery. Still, women are less likely to undergo invasive treatments for this heart condition. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, a pioneer in women's heart disease and director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center of the Smidt Heart Institute, said that "lifestyle modifications are important to those at risk for atrial fibrillation, but also important modifications all women can consider to prevent other heart-related conditions." She is of the opinion that the new data highlights the importance of atrial fibrillation prevention in women.

"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," said Albert. In conclusion, physicians and healthcare providers must strive to raise awareness of atrial fibrillation prevention among both men and women, emphasizing how female patients are at a greater risk of complications if their condition remains untreated. The study was published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology on August 31, 2022. Some of the funding for the VITAL Rhythm Trial came from the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.