Men Develop Atrial Fibrillation Earlier Than Women

Atrial fibrillation risk increases in men a decade before women.

Men may have a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation up to a decade earlier than women, with overweight men facing the most significant risk, according to a study published by Circulation. These findings may help guide preventive measures to reduce risk factors among vulnerable populations, according to the study authors.

Atrial fibrillation is a common condition characterized by irregular heartbeats due to the atria beating out of coordination with the lower chambers of the heart. This condition is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular death and stroke.

“It’s crucial to better understand modifiable risk factors of atrial fibrillation,” said study author Christina Magnussen, MD. “If prevention strategies succeed in targeting these risk factors, we expect a noticeable decline in new-onset atrial fibrillation.”

These strategies would also reduce heart disease-related deaths and healthcare costs, according to the authors.

Included in the study were records of 79,793 individuals who were not diagnosed with atrial fibrillation at baseline. At follow-up, the authors found that 4.4% of women and 6.4% of men were diagnosed with the condition.

The investigators discovered that diagnosis rates skyrocketed after age 50 for men and age 60 for women, according to the study. By age 90, 24% of both men and women were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

In men, atrial fibrillation was also linked to higher blood levels of C-reactive protein, which is an inflammatory biomarker.

Additionally, new diagnoses increased by 31% in men with increased body mass index (BMI), while it only increased 18% in women with high BMIs, according to the study. This finding suggests that weight loss may reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation.

“We advise weight reduction for both men and women,” Dr Magnussen said. “As elevated body mass index seems to be more detrimental for men, weight control seems to be essential, particularly in overweight and obese men.”

Notably, the authors discovered that higher cholesterol—a known risk factor for heart disease—was linked to a lower risk of atrial fibrillation. This finding was especially pronounced in women; however, the underlying link is unknown.

Although the study participants were from northern and southern Europe, the investigators caution that the strong link between atrial fibrillation and BMI may be significant among other non-Caucasian populations as well, according to the study.

These results suggest that maintaining a healthy weight and following preventive measures are important for those at risk of atrial fibrillation, especially men over the age of 50, the authors concluded.