Stressful life events and poor sleeping patterns are linked to the development of atrial fibrillation in older women.
New study findings from the Journal of the American Heart Association report that women have an increased risk of developing irregular heart rhythms after menopause.
In the study, researchers found that 1 in 4 women will develop atrial fibrillation in their lifetime because of stressful life events and insomnia, along with other leading factors. The American Heart Association confirms that this is not uncommon, as 12 million older US adults are projected to develop atrial fibrillation by 2030.
Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly, leading to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiovascular issues.
“Atrial fibrillation is a disease of the electrical conduction system and is prone to hormonal changes stemming from stress and poor sleep. These common pathways likely underpin the association between stress and insomnia with atrial fibrillation,” said Susan X. Zhao, MD, lead study author and cardiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, in a press release.
Researchers conducted a study involving 83,736 women aged of 50 to 79 years, with an average age of 64 years old. The women completed questionnaires that asked about stressful life events, their sense of optimism, social support, and insomnia. Each of the key categories involved specific questions regarding personal experiences such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or illness under the topic of stressful events.
“In my general cardiology practice, I see many postmenopausal women with picture perfect physical health who struggle with poor sleep and negative psychological emotional feelings or experience, which we now know may put them at risk for developing atrial fibrillation,” said Zhao. “I strongly believe that in addition to age, genetic and other heart-health related risk factors, psychosocial factors are the missing piece to the puzzle of the genesis of atrial fibrillation.”
The researchers reviewed data conducted through the questionaries and followed up with the women over decade to find results. The results found that nearly 25% (23,954) of women developed atrial fibrillation.
Additionally, the researchers identified a 2-cluster system that was a stress and strain cluster. Insomnia and stress were identified as leading factors because for each additional point on the insomnia scale, there was an increased the development of atrial fibrillation by 4%, and 2% for a stressful life event.
“Researchers noted that stressful life events, poor sleep, and feelings, such as depression, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed by one’s circumstances, are often interrelated. It’s difficult to know whether these factors accumulate gradually over the years to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation as women age,” said the authors of the press release.
However, the press release notes that as women live longer, there is a higher risk of worse outcomes associated with atrial fibrillation. However, the life events faced may not be as significant or long lasting. More research will need to be conducted to find if stress-relieving situations can modify the risk.
Stress and insomnia linked to irregular heart rhythms after menopause. EurekAlert!. News release. August 30, 2023. Accessed August 30, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/999561.