JERUSALEM, ISRAEL. Researchers at the Hadassah University Hospital report that elderly women with high pulse (heart) rates have an increased risk of dying, particularly from cardiovascular disease. Their study involved 193 women and 229 men 70 years of age at entry to the study in 1990-91. During 6 years of follow-up 20 women (10%) and 48 men (19.4%) died. The researchers found a strong correlation between heart rate (as measured as pulse rate or through an ECG) and mortality in women. Women with a resting heart rate above 77 bpm had a 3 times higher mortality than did women with a rate of 77 bpm or slower. When women on beta-blockers were excluded a heart rate above 77 bpm conferred an 8-fold increase in mortality. A heart rate above 77 bpm was associated with a 14-fold increase in death from cardiovascular disease, but not significantly associated with death from cancer. Men generally had a 2-3 times higher death rate than women at comparable pulse rates, but higher pulse rates as such were not significantly associated with increased mortality among men. This finding is in sharp contrast to the findings of several other studies which concluded that high heart rates in men are associated both with increased overall mortality and, specifically, with death from cardiovascular disease. It is possible that the generally high mortality in men over 70 years of age may have masked the effect of heart rate in the Israeli study.
Perk, Gila, et al. Sex differences in the effect of heart rate on mortality in the elderly. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Vol. 51, September 2003, pp. 1260-64
Editor's comment: Women with a resting heart rate of 68 bpm or lower would seem to be at quite low risk according to this study. These women had a 6-fold lower risk of death than did women with a heart rate above 77 bpm and a 4-fold lower risk than men with a heart rate of 68 bpm or lower.