A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that atrial fibrillation, a sustained irregular heartbeat, may affect more younger women than previously thought.
Earlier studies showed that atrial fibrillation was a known risk for older women who had other heart problems, but this is the first research to focus on younger, seemingly healthy women, who had no symptoms before the sudden onset of this potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat
"It feels like a middle school kid who wants to be a drummer in the band and has no sense of rhythm and just wails way," said Judy Kulp, who was in the study because of a history of atrial fibrillation.
If the abnormal rhythm is not treated, it can be dangerous.
"Even in a very low risk group of women who did not have overt cardiovascular disease at baseline, there was an increased risk of death and adverse events in those women who developed atrial fibrillation," said one of the authors of the study, Dr. David Conen from University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.
Conen added that early diagnosis can save lives.
"These data suggest that through aggressive risk factor control such as treating hypertension or inter-current cardiac events aggressively one might prevent some of these deaths among women with atrial fibrillation," Conen said.
Kulp received medicine and was then treated with a procedure called ablation therapy: a tube is placed into a blood vessel in arm or groin then guided up to the heart where the exact spot causing the abnormal rhythm is located, then destroyed using very high temperatures. No surrounding tissue is affected and the heartbeat returns to normal.
"I feel fantastic," Judy said after the procedure. "I haven't had any symptoms. The difference of not knowing what's going to happen from day to day to feeling great is wonderful."
There are many causes of heart rhythm abnormalities. Each must be investigated by an expert and the treatment that worked for Judy may not work on everyone. But this study points out the importance of getting medical help whenever you feel like you have a fast or irregular heartbeat.