Following a review of 30 studies covering more than 4million patients, the results point towards women who have an irregular heartbeat may be at greater risk of stroke, heart disease, heart failure and death than men. However, the evidence published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) found no clear explanation for why this should be the case.
Having an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, is known to increase the risk of stroke and death in both men and women. Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around one million people in the UK.
However, studies have increasingly raised the possibility that for cardiovascular disease there are differences in risk factors for men and women. For instance, smoking and diabetes may make it more likely that women will develop heart disease than men, while diabetes is also associated with a greater relative risk of stroke in women.
Double the risk of dying from stroke
They found that women with an irregular heartbeat had a 12% higher risk of dying of any cause and a significantly higher risk of dying from stroke and heart failure than men.
The risk of having a stroke, and the risk of dying from cardiovascular conditions (such as heart disease and stroke), was almost twice that of men, while the risk of developing heart failure was 16% higher. The researchers say that although it is unclear what causes the differences in men and women, the results suggest the need to assess and treat women with irregular heartbeat differently to men.
Checking for an irregular heartbeat
An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) can be detected by feeling your pulse. Advice from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) says you should:
- Put one of your hands out so you’re looking at your palm
- Use the index/first finger and middle finger of your other hand and place the pads of these fingers on the inside of your wrist
- You should place them at the base of your thumb near where the strap of a watch would sit
- Press lightly and feel the pulse. If you can’t feel anything press slightly harder or move your fingers around until you feel your pulse
- Once you’ve found your pulse, continue to feel it for about 20-30 seconds. Feel the rhythm of the pulse and check if it’s regular or irregular.
A normal heart beat is usually around 60-100 bpm and it is completely normal for a persons heart beat to vary throughout the day when doing different activities! An Irregular heart beat can occur if the heart beat is either to fast or too slow:
- Too slow = bradyarrhythmias = Below 50 bpm
- Too fast = Tacharrhythmias = Above 100 bpm
If you have any concerns regarding your heart beat please contact your GP or the emergency services if you’re symptoms are life threatening.