A preliminary study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology has suggested that larger, taller women are more at risk of atrial fibrillation than shorter, smaller women. The study used data collected over a period of 16 years, and concluded that women with a bigger surface area – i.e. tall and large – were nearly three times as likely to suffer an episode of atrial fibrillation than those with a relatively smaller surface area.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat. Although it is not usually life-threatening, it can make sufferers feel uncomfortable, suffer dizzy spells and tiredness, and if left untreated may lead to heart-related problems such as stroke, blood clots and heart failure.
Dr. Annika Rosengren, the author of the study, said that women with bigger bodies have bigger hearts with large atria, which increases the risk of atrial fibrillation. The correlation between body size and atrial fibrillation risk is, to an extent, to be expected – all hearts, regardless of their size, contain the same number of cells. In large hearts these cells are stretched, causing interruptions in the electrical impulses which control the rhythm of the heart, ultimately leading to an irregular heartbeat.
As the group of women used in the study ages, further data will be collected and analysed, as there is evidence to show that risk of atrial fibrillation increases with age. The NHS estimate that currently around one million people in the UK suffer with atrial fibrillation, affecting 7 in 100 people over the age of 65.