AFib in Women Has Strong Ties to Stress and Poor Sleep

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
November 15, 2023
Woman getting heart checked

Not getting enough sleep is linked to various health issues – from heart disease to diabetes to obesity. It can exacerbate stress and anxiety and can even lead to mental health issues. It’s also associated with raising the risk of atrial fibrillation in women, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers reviewed data collected via questionnaires from 83,736 postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative between 1994 and 1998 and followed an average of 10 years. Women were between the ages of 50 and 79 and mostly white (88 percent). The research goal was to track the frequency of atrial fibrillation (AFib) in relation to psychosocial variables.

Variables were divided into two categories. A Stress Cluster that included stressful life events, depressive symptoms and insomnia. Questions covered topics such as grief, illness, abuse, financial problems, sleep habits and sleep quality. The second category, the Strain Cluster, captured participants’ optimism, outlook on life, faith, social support, social strain and help with responsibilities.  

After a statistical analysis, researchers found:

  • About 25 percent of women developed atrial fibrillation.
  • Insomnia was strongly linked to the development of AFib. 
  • For every additional point on the on the insomnia scale, the chance of developing AFib increased by four percent.
  • Stressful life events also were strongly linked to AFib development. 
  • For every additional point on the stressful life event scale, the chance of developing AFib increased by two percent.

Sleep and stress have such strong ties to AFib that results led researchers to recommend adding mental well-being evaluations with physical health examinations.

“I highly encourage patients to work with their primary care physician to help manage stress and sleep,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “The MDVIP Wellness Program includes anxiety and sleep health components. We included them in our program to give affiliated doctors a chance to suggest coping tactics, prescribe medications and/or refer you to specialists.  

AFib causes an irregular, often rapid heart rate, referred to as an arrhythmia. AFib is known for causing a pounding heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, extreme fatigue, fainting, weakness, dizziness and/or light-headedness. In some cases, it doesn’t produce symptoms, which can be problematic as untreated AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure.

Besides insomnia and stress, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart failure are risk factors. And of course, aging increases the possibility of AFib, as well as poor outcomes.

Lowering your risk for AFib usually involves a:

And of course, you should try to get good quality sleep every night and control stress.

“AFib also can be genetic; it’s referred to familial atrial fibrillation. If AFib runs in your family, it’s important to live a heart healthy lifestyle,” says Kaminetsky. “This is why it’s crucial to establish a strong relationship with a primary care who knows you and understands your family health history.”

If you don’t have a doctor, consider joining an MDVIP-affiliated practice. MDVIP-affiliated doctors have the time to develop a strong personal relationship with their patients and can focus on helping you live a heart-healthy lifestyle. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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