For years, those involved in cardiac care viewed the diagnosis and treatment procedures for cardiovascular disease as applicable to both men and women, despite the fact that heart disease kills 200,000 women each year, five times the rate of breast cancer. Today, thanks in part to physiology -- the study of how the body works -- physicians now know that instead of developing blockages in the arteries supplying blood to the heart, a common occurrence with men, women accumulate plaque more evenly inside the major arteries and in smaller blood vessels. This condition, which appears to be particularly common in younger women, can be as dangerous as the better-known form of the disease.
This and other new cardiovascular research findings are just one of the outcomes resulting from the revolution in gender studies in physiology. Cardiovascular disease and other gender-specific conditions - such as menopause, pregnancy, depression, and obesity - will be explored in depth at a two day conference being sponsored by the American Physiology Society (APS), the nation's leading organization for the advancement of this vital science, with support from the American Heart Association and the Society for Women's Health Research. The conference, "Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities," is being held at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), 2500 North State Street in Jackson, MS, October 12-14. The conference coincides with the grand opening of the Women's Health Research Center which is located on the campus of UMMC. Additionally, highlights of selected presentations from the meeting will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Organizing this conference is Jane F Reckelhoff, Ph.D., Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at UMMC and director of the Women's Health Research Center. This pioneer in gender studies and APS member will preside over an agenda with presentations that will cover gender differences in heart disease, vascular function, kidney disease and metabolism and will provide insight on how perimenopause and menopause affect women's heart health. Her podcast interview at http://bit.ly/pQuV0T provides greater detail.
Speakers at this event include:
Doris Taylor, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Cardiac Repair, who will discuss how to build a heart from stem cells;
Janet Rich-Edwards, Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health will provide insight into the impact of pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes on cardiovascular disease.
John Hall, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UMMC, will speak on the association of obesity and blood pressure;
Pamela Ouyang, M.D. of Johns Hopkins University will report on her findings on the relationship of early menopause and heart disease;
Meir Steiner, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, will discuss depression and the role it plays in the risk for cardiovascular disease in women; and
David G. Harrison, M.D., Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, will offer insights into the association between the body's immune system and cardiovascular disease.
The presentations help bring to light how much has changed about how we understand the role sex and gender plays in health in general, and in cardiovascular health in particular. Discoveries in the last 10-15 years include:
•A daily aspirin regimen for men helps protect against heart attacks but offers no protection for women. On the other hand that same aspirin will protect women against strokes but has no such capability for men.
•Women generally have lower rates of hypertension or high blood pressure before menopause. After menopause, hypertension rates for women spike dramatically.
•Hypertension in women is less well controlled. This occurs despite proven evidence that women are more compliant in taking their prescribed medication.
A quaint 19th century rhyme describes the differences between males and females as "Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails" and "Sugar and spice and everything nice." The rhyme may sound silly, but it illustrates a vital point: namely, that there are gender-related differences which have been confirmed by physiological research, and that there is much more for research to discover. The "Physiology of Cardiovascular Disease: Gender Disparities" conference is a significant next step in this regard.
American Physiological Society