DALLAS, September 8-- Atrial fibrillation -- a condition in which the heart beats irregularly -- significantly increases the risk of dying, particularly for women, report scientists in today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
According to the study, men with atrial fibrillation (AF) had a risk of death 1.5 times greater than men without AF. For women, the risk of death was 1.9 times greater in women with AF when compared to women without AF.
Prior research has shown that the condition results in more disability, but in this study researchers looked specifically at death rates and found people with atrial fibrillation had an increased risk of death.
"Women tend to live longer than men," says the study's lead author Emelia J. Benjamin, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and director of echocardiology for the Framingham Heart Study. "However, in our study, the risk of dying for women with atrial fibrillation at any given age looked similar to men of the same age who had atrial fibrillation."
In the study, the risk for men is heavily influenced by death in the first 30 days after diagnosis, while the increased risk of death for women continues throughout life, says Benjamin. The odds that a woman with AF would die prematurely were actually higher than those for men with the disorder, eliminating the survival advantage that women generally have over men.
AF is caused by a disruption in the rhythm of the atria, the heart's upper two chambers. It causes an irregular heartbeat that results in the heart pumping blood less effectively. About 2 million Americans have AF, according to an editorial in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association by J. Thomas Bigger Jr., M.D., professor of medicine and of pharmacology at Columbia University in New York City.