An irregular heartbeat has been revealed as a greater risk factor for strokes and heart disease and fatalities in women than in men – although the cause remains unclear, according to a new study.

Atrial fibrillation, the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm in the world, is linked to increased stroke and death risks in both men and women, with about 33.5 million affected in 2010 alone. However, it appeared to be a bigger threat among females.

A mounting body of research finds that cardiovascular condition risks – such as smoking and diabetes – affect the two sexes differently.

The researchers analyzed data from 30 studies that involved more than 4 million participants and reported sex-specific links between atrial fibrillation and death from all causes, cardiovascular death, stroke, cardiac death and attacks, and health failure.

Women emerged as 93 percent more likely to die from a heart disease, 55 percent more likely to experience a heart attack, and 16 percent more likely to suffer heart failure. They also had 12 percent greater likelihood to be killed by any health cause and twice men's chances of suffering a stroke.

It is unclear, though what causes these differences between men and women.

"This study adds to a growing body of literature showing that women may experience cardiovascular diseases and risk factors differently than men," said author and University of Oxford doctoral student Connor Emdin in an interview.

The results, according to the researchers, back the creation of a specific risk score for atrial fibrillation in women. When it comes to crafting health policy, too, resource allocation for preventing and treating the health issue should consider its sex-based differences.

Atrial fibrillation, stated the U.S. National Institute of Health, occurs when rapid and disorganized electrical signals result in the heart's two upper chambers or atria to contract in a jerky manner. This condition is mostly linked to the occurrence of stroke because irregular rhythm paves the way for blood pooling and clotting in the heart chambers.

Why do women then fare worse than men when it comes to atrial fibrillation?

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital speculated it may be because their signs and symptoms are not as visible as those in men. "It's reasonable to consider that it's diagnosed later, or it's not as recognized or that the symptoms are not the same," she explained.

Cardiologist Dr. Christopher Granger added that while most irregular heartbeat patients should be on anti-clotting medications to prevent stroke, they are currently not. This, he added, could have graver and deadlier consequences for women.

The results were published in the British Medical Journal.

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