Harvard Women's Health Watch

Atrial fibrillation carries a greater risk of stroke and death for women

Men are more likely than women to develop atrial fibrillation (afib)—a rapid, erratic beat in which the heart's upper chamber doesn't contract forcefully, allowing blood to pool and increasing the risk of clotting. However, some—but not all—studies have indicated that afib poses a greater stroke risk in women than in men. To settle the question, an international team of researchers looked at 30 studies with 4.4 million participants. They found that compared with men who have afib, women with afib have a 12% higher risk of death from all causes and almost double the risk of having a stroke or dying from one. The results were published online Jan. 20, 2016, by the journal BMJ.

Women notoriously neglect the symptoms of afib—feeling weak, breathless, or unusually fatigued. If you have afib symptoms, get medical attention, even if you think it's only a virus. There are several successful treatments for afib as well as for preventing stroke in women who have afib.