Arrhythmias More Common in and Specific to Women
Before we delve into how cardiac arrhythmias affect women differently, it is important to have a quick refresher on what an arrhythmia is and potential consequences. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats that can either originate in the upper chambers of the heart (Atria) or lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). While most are not life threatening, over the long term, arrhythmias can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Some can indeed be life threatening, causing syncope, fainting and even sudden cardiac death. Learn more about arrhythmias here.
To get straight to the point, there are no specific arrhythmias that affect women only, just as there are no male specific arrhythmias. However, as we understand gender differences, it becomes increasingly clear that the presentation and treatment outcomes of arrhythmias are, indeed, different. Why does that matter? We must treat each patient for their own unique circumstances. Understanding how arrhythmias affect women differently can improve outcomes significantly.
AVNRT: AVNRT is a supra ventricular tachycardia, meaning a fast heartbeat that occurs above the lower chambers of the heart. AVNRT affects women significantly more than men – by a two to one ratio. Learn more about AVNRT here
Atrial Fibrillation: While the incidence of atrial fibrillation or a fib is significantly higher in males, a study known as the Framingham heart study found females to have longer episodes and a faster heart rate when compared to men. This could show a more severe course of disease and ultimately poorer outcomes for women with Afib. Learn more about Afib here
Long QT Syndrome: The QT interval of the heart is the time it takes for the heart to reset for the next beat. As women go through puberty the difference in QT interval between women and men become more pronounced. Indeed, during puberty, the typical male QT interval reduces, while females’ do not. Long QT intervals can create certain arrhythmias, some of which can be life threatening.
Sudden Cardiac Death. unfortunately, SCD is a very real condition caused by underlying cardiovascular disease including arrhythmias. However, a nurses health study that followed over 100,000 female nurses showed that of those that died (244) without warning, upwards of 70% had no prior heart disease. Again, more research must be directed third female cardiac health with the goal of finding out why.