Atrial Fibrillation and Ventricular Arrhythmias: Sex Differences in Electrophysiology, Epidemiology, Clinical Presentation, and Clinical Outcomes

Anne M Gillis
Circulation 2017 February 7, 135 (6): 593-608
Sex-specific differences in the epidemiology, pathophysiology, clinical presentation, clinical treatment, and clinical outcomes of atrial fibrillation (AF), sustained ventricular arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death are recognized. Sex hormones cause differences in cardiac electrophysiological parameters between men and women that may affect the risk for arrhythmias. The incidence and prevalence of AF is lower in women than in men. However, because women live longer and AF prevalence increases with age, the absolute number of women with AF exceeds that of men. Women with AF are more symptomatic, present with more atypical symptoms, and report worse quality of life in comparison with men. Female sex is an independent risk factor for death or stroke attributable to AF. Oral anticoagulation therapy for stroke prevention has similar efficacy for men and women, but older women treated with warfarin have a higher residual risk of stroke in comparison with men. Women with AF are less likely to receive rhythm control antiarrhythmic drug therapy, electric cardioversion, or catheter ablation in comparison with men. The incidence and prevalence of sustained ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death are lower in women than in men. Women receiving implantable cardioverter defibrillators for primary prevention of sudden cardiac death are less likely to experience sustained ventricular arrhythmias in comparison with men. In contrast, women receiving a cardiac resynchronization therapy implantable cardioverter defibrillator for the treatment of heart failure are more likely to benefit than men. Women are less likely to be referred for implantable cardioverter defibrillator therapy despite current guideline recommendations. Women are more likely to experience a significant complication related to implantable cardioverter defibrillator implantation in comparison with men. Whether sex differences in treatment decisions reflect patient preferences or treatment biases requires further study.

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