Society for Women's Health Research, U. of Wisconsin scientific meeting on cardiovascular disease

July 17, 2002

Washington, D.C. - Cancer is the disease American women say they fear the most, even though heart disease continues to be the nation's leading cause of death for women and men. Heart disease and stroke took nearly double the number of female lives than cancer in 1999, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

A June study, commissioned by the Society for Women's Health Research, found that less than six percent of the U.S. female population fears heart disease or stroke most, based on a survey of 1,019 women age 18 and older. Ten times that, or more than 60 percent of women, fear cancer most.

To raise awareness of the leading killer and encourage the understanding of key differences between women and men with regard to heart disease, the Society and the University of Wisconsin Medical School are hosting "Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Health and Disease" on July 24 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison, Wis. As part of the program, a public education forum on women's cardiovascular disease will be held for the community during the evening of July 23.

"These statistics are very alarming given that heart disease continues to be the number one killer among women," said Phyllis Greenberger, M.S.W., president and chief executive officer of the Society. "What may be even more alarming is of the small percentage that do fear heart disease most, these women may not be aware of the sex-based differences with regard to the disease. We hope these programs will raise awareness among the scientific and medical communities and the public, as well as spark interest in further research into how cardiovascular disease affects men and women differently."

During the daylong meeting researchers from across the country will discuss a variety of topics relating to sex-based biological and physiological differences with regard to cardiovascular disease. Presentations will 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 will highlight findings released last week from the WHI's 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 will talk about 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 focuses 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 will discuss 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 will discuss 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 will discuss 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 will discuss his animal studies investigating the biological basis for sex differences in Torsades de Pointes and his hypothesis on testosterone's protective role.

Other presentations will focus 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, will open the meeting as a special guest speaker.

"While the myth that women are protected from cardiovascular disease has been largely dispelled, the importance of sex-related differences in heart disease still persists," said Pamela S. Douglas, M.D., section head of cardiovascular medicine and a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, who will provide an overview of sex differences in cardiovascular health and disease. "Sex differences occur at every level and as researchers and clinicians it is incumbent upon all of us to discover how these differences translate into cardiovascular health and disease in women."

The scientific meeting is being 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.

For a complete meeting agenda, information on previous Scientific Advisory Meetings, or for more information about the meeting or the public education forum, call 202-496-5015 or visit

Society for Women's Health Research

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