‘Women’s vascular health is underappreciated. It’s about where we were 10 years ago with cardiac health’
In an effort to better understand how gender may affect women’s vascular health, physicians and surgeons at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo are holding a Women’s Vascular Summit on May 3-4 at the Jacobs School.
It is the first annual meeting dedicated to vascular disease – disease of blood vessels, i.e. the arteries and veins – in women. The focus will be on how symptoms of vascular disease in women differ from those in men and how interventions to treat the disease may also be impacted by gender.
Vascular diseases involve the narrowing of veins and arteries, which can lead to severe and life-threatening complications, including stroke and gangrene, with the loss of a limb, or aneurysms (ballooning), which can lead to rupture and death.
“We see multiple research studies noting different outcomes according to gender or race, but nothing unifies the data or attempts to assess the role gender may play in vascular disease,” said Linda M. Harris, M.D., professor in the department of surgery in the Jacobs School, program director of the vascular surgery residency and fellowship at UB, and a vascular physician with Kaleida Health. She is also a surgeon at UBMD Surgery.
More than 75 vascular physicians and surgeons will attend the UB summit. The speakers – all of them female – are surgeons and vascular physicians from a broad range of academic health centers, including UB, Mount Sinai, SUNY Upstate Medical University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins Medicine, University of Michigan, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Rochester, Catholic Health, LHSC Victoria Hospital in Canada and Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Women’s vascular health is underappreciated. It’s about where we were 10 years ago with cardiac health,” Harris said. “A decade ago, if I went to the ER with chest pain, it was assumed that I was having an anxiety attack rather than a heart attack, whereas a man with the same symptoms would always be assumed to be having a heart attack.”
Today, she said, the health care system may not be fully recognizing women experiencing symptoms of vascular diseases, including peripheral arterial disease (PAD), aortic aneurysm or venous disease. Symptoms of PAD can include leg pain and sores that won’t heal. Aneurysms are often without symptoms until they rupture when they present with belly pain or back pain, and are increased risk if a family member has an aneurysm, while venous disease can present with leg pain, swelling or heaviness.
Women are at increased risk for vascular disease if they have diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure or they smoke.
“Most studies in vascular disease are heavily predominated by men,” Harris said. “Even basic science studies typically use male rats. We need to begin investigating women’s health to determine if outcomes differ due to later presentation in women, biochemical differences, or differences in the size of our blood vessels.”
The goals of the summit include providing a foundation for establishing what needs to be investigated about vascular disease in women. Harris noted African-Americans and Hispanics also experience worse outcomes in some vascular diseases compared to Caucasians, but said it’s unclear whether this is due to access to care and delay in diagnosis or referral or something genetic.
“We intend to come out of the meeting with ideas on research that will help improve knowledge going forward,” she said. “We expect this will be the first of many summits to address the issue of women’s vascular disease.”
The conference organizers are Harris and Mariel Rivero, M.D., of the department of surgery in the Jacobs School. More information is at https://web.cvent.com/event/f0e9ca93-7ff0-46e9-8bab-31c9316b8a80/summary.