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Feb 22, 2017

Women with Atrial Fibrillation Suffer Worse Strokes than Men

Stroke prevention is especially critical in women with an abnormal heart rhythm, finds study.

Stroke prevention is critical in women with an abnormal heart rhythm, based on a recent study that found women with atrial fibrillation experience more severe strokes than men.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, this study looked at stroke differences among men and women with atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, often referred to as AFib, is a common type of abnormal heart rhythm that affects roughly 2.7 million Americans. Stroke is one of the biggest risks associated with AFib and unfortunately, strokes from AFib tend to be more severe than strokes from other causes. It’s also well established that women with AFib face higher risk of stroke than men. But whether stroke severity differs among men and women with AFib is less clear.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from an Austrian registry, which tracks the health of stroke patients. The analysis included more than 65,500 patients, all of which suffered ischemic stroke between 2003 and 2016. Ischemic stroke occurs when blood vessels to the brain become blocked, and it accounts for roughly 87% of all strokes in the United States.

Among all strokes included in the analysis, nearly one-third occurred in patients with atrial fibrillation. Overall, findings confirmed that AFib-related strokes were more severe than strokes from other causes. That means stroke patients with AFib were more likely to have lasting negative effects from stroke, such as paralysis, speech problems and memory loss, compared to strokes from other causes.

Researchers also found that women with AFib suffered more severe strokes than men. Based on a stroke scale developed by the National Institutes of Health, female stroke patients with AFib had an average score of 9, while male stroke patients with AFib had an average score of 6. Higher stroke scores indicate a more severe stroke and more lasting negative health outcomes.

Based on findings, authors highlight the importance of stroke prevention among female patients with AFib. Not only do women with AFib have an increased risk of stroke compared to men, they’re also more likely to suffer more debilitating strokes. Thus, taking steps to reduce stroke risk like with lifestyle changes and blood-clotting medication is especially critical for women with atrial fibrillation.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is stroke?

  • Stroke occurs when there is an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. The two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the brain. Symptoms of both types of stroke include sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, trouble with vision, loss of balance or coordination, and severe headache with no known cause. It is crucial that you call 911 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • 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.

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

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Infographic: AFib