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Aug 11, 2016

Complications from AFib Procedure are More Common in Women than Men

Women with atrial fibrillation are more likely to experience complications after catheter ablation than men, but there is a silver lining to these findings.

Women are more likely to experience complications after a common procedure used to treat atrial fibrillation, based on a recent study that analyzed gender differences after catheter ablation.

Published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, this study analyzed U.S. medical claims data to see if gender has any influence on outcomes after ablation. Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that helps treat atrial fibrillation—the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm. This procedure is often used when medication fails to control heart rate and symptoms. Since women with atrial fibrillation already have a greater risk of blood clots and tend to experience more symptoms than men, experts wonder if outcomes vary as well.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from more than 21,000 patients undergoing ablation for atrial fibrillation between 2007 and 2011. Roughly 1/3 of patients were female, and after analysis, researchers found that gender had a big impact on both risk and outcomes.

Overall, women undergoing ablation were older and had higher risk for stroke than men based on standardized assessments. After undergoing the procedure, women had significantly higher risk of complications within one month than their male counterparts. Women were also 12% more likely to be re-hospitalized within a year after their procedure.

The good news, however, is that women were 8% less likely to need a repeat ablation and 25% less likely to need an atrial fibrillation treatment called cardioversion. This suggests that while women with atrial fibrillation have greater risk for complications after ablation, the procedure may be more effective in controlling heart rhythm and minimizing symptoms compared to men.

This study is the largest of its kind to explore gender differences related to ablation for atrial fibrillation. According to authors, the influence of gender on outcomes is not something that should be overlooked.  It’s estimated that one in four women will develop atrial fibrillation at some point in their lifetime. Authors also note that female gender was recently added as a risk factor for stroke in patients with AFib. With additional research, experts hope to better understand gender differences and improve both treatment and outcomes in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.

Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.


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Early re-ablation effective in some patients with AFib.

Study Questions the Safety of a Common Procedure for Treating Atrial Fibrillation

Mortality rates are found to be higher at medical centers that perform fewer catheter ablations than larger hospitals.

Resources to Help You Compare Treatment Options

Guidance from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in making health decisions

Bob's Story: Atrial Fibrillation

Learn how Bob Ek and his cardiologist, Scott J. Pollak, MD, FACC, work as a team to manage Bob’s atrial fibrillation.