According to new research, men develop atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, about a decade earlier than women. Atrial fibrillation can increase your risk for stroke, heart failure, and death. In fact, people with atrial fibrillation are nearly 5 times more likely to suffer a stroke compared with those who don’t have the condition. The new findings are published in the journal Circulation.
You can control your risk
In the study, researchers found that the risk of developing atrial fibrillation rapidly climbs in men after age 50 and in women after age 60.
Certain risk factors for men increase their chances for atrial fibrillation. Specifically, having a higher body mass index (BMI) and lower total cholesterol were associated with a greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation in men than in women.
While you can’t control your sex or your age, both men and women can change many risk factors that may help lower risk for atrial fibrillation. Here’s what you can do:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that’s packed with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, at least 5 days of the week.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels within a healthy range using lifestyle changes or medicine, if needed.
- Visit your doctor regularly and take all your medicines as prescribed.
Know the signs
The overall lifetime risk for atrial fibrillation is about 25% for both men and women, researchers found. Knowing the signs of atrial fibrillation and seeking medical care can help lower your risk of suffering serious, life-threatening complications.
Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
- Chest pain or pressure
If you develop signs of a heart attack or stroke, don’t wait for your doctor. Call 911 and get to the nearest emergency room right away.