Harvard Women's Health Watch

Unique stroke risks in women with atrial fibrillation

Women with the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, called atrial fibrillation (afib), are at greater risk for a stroke compared with men and may need to be treated more aggressively, according to a Swedish study published online May 31 in the British Medical Journal. With afib, the heart's upper chambers (atria) contract quickly and erratically. This uncoordinated heartbeat can cause the blood to pool and form clots. If one of those clots blocks the blood supply to the brain, it can lead to an ischemic stroke. In this study, which included more than 100,000 people with atrial fibrillation, women with the irregular heartbeat were 47% more likely to have one of these strokes than men with atrial fibrillation (a rate of 6.2% compared to 4.2%). Even after adjusting for 35 different stroke risk factors (including high blood pressure, heart failure, and diabetes), women still had an 18% higher risk for stroke than men. The authors say gender should play into the decision to start women on anticlotting medicines.

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