Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Disease

June 16, 2003

A new report is available from the joint meeting of the Society for Women's Health Research and the University of Wisconsin Medical School, "Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Health and Disease." The meeting was held on July 24, 2002 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin and featured accomplished researchers who covered a wide range of cardiovascular issues. A report is available by contacting Amy Hoskins at 202-496-5011.

Highlight of meeting presentations include the following:

  • Jacques E. Rossouw, M.D., acting director of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD - Rossouw highlighted findings released from the Women's Health Initiative hormone replacement therapy trial using estrogen and progestin, which was terminated early because of increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer in women using the hormones. He also discussed the identification, treatment and prevention of known risk factors for coronary heart disease. Women and men have similar risk factors for cardiovascular disease, although the impact of some risk factors may vary between the sexes. Risk factors include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and high cholesterol.

  • Virginia M. Miller, Ph.D., a professor of surgery and physiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. - Changes in endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels, can lead to heart attacks, high blood pressure and organ transplantation failure. Miller focused on understanding how endothelial cells and platelets, which help blood to clot, contribute to hardening of the arteries and to a certain type of blood clot in the legs. She also discussed how estrogen changes the way endothelial cells respond in women and men during various stages of life.

  • Suzanne Oparil, M.D., a professor of cardiovascular medicine and director of the Vascular Biology and Hypertension Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham - Research shows premenopausal women have lower blood pressure than men of the same age, but that postmenopausal women have higher blood pressure than their male counterparts. These findings suggest that ovarian hormones may affect blood pressure levels. Oparil talked about her work in this area and the cardiovascular effects of estrogen.

  • Richard E. White, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta - Sex steroids, such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, have been found to relax coronary artery smooth muscle. White discussed his work in this area and how this may explain some beneficial cardiovascular effects of these hormones.

  • Steven N. Ebert, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. - Torsades de Pointes, a potentially fatal irregular heartbeat, is more common in women than men. The condition can arise due to congenital birth defects or be triggered by the use of certain medications. Ebert explained his animal studies investigating the biological basis for sex differences in Torsades de Pointes and his hypothesis on testosterone's protective role.

    Other presentations focused on cholesterol trafficking; recent cardiovascular clinical trials focusing on women and areas needing more research; sex differences in heart failure in older adults; and the effects of exercise on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a severe genetic heart disease that is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes and is more common in women than men. Sue Ann Thompson, president of the Wisconsin Women's Health Foundation, opened the meeting as a special guest speaker.

    The scientific meeting was held as a satellite symposium of the International Society for Heart Research's annual meeting. The Society is sponsoring regional Scientific Advisory Meetings in response to the April 2001 Institute of Medicine report, "Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?" that validated the Society's message that biologic sex matters when it comes to health. Meetings are being held across the country to educate scientists, health care providers and the public about important sex-based biological differences relating to a variety of diseases and developmental processes.

    Society for Women's Health Research

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