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University of Chicago collaborates on national research to understand care, outcomes of young women with heart disease

Women twice as likely to die in hospital after heart attack

June 1, 2010

A multi-center research project studying the role of gender in how young people recover from heart attacks is examining why young women who have heart attacks are about twice as likely to die in the hospital as men of the same age.

Researchers from the University of Chicago, led by Rupa Mehta, MD, assistant professor, cardiology, and Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor, obstetrics and gynecology, are collaborating with Yale University investigators and more than 95 hospitals across the nation.

The collaboration, Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes in Young AMI Patients (VIRGO), is funded by the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

"Currently, we have little information about what accounts for the higher risk of young women with heart disease or how best to address it," said Harlan Krumholz, MD, director, Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE), Yale New-Haven Hospital and principal investigator. "I cringe at the thought that these young people are being treated without the benefit of much research to guide decisions. That is what we hope to change. At least this project is a start in the right direction," he said.

VIRGO provides an unprecedented opportunity to identify factors that influence the survival and health of young women who suffer heart attacks. The research project will enroll 2,000 young women and 1,000 men through June 2011. "We are grateful for the tremendous support and commitment from the University of Chicago and other participating VIRGO sites for making this important research project possible," said Judith Lichtman, PhD, MPH, co-principal investigator and associate professor, division of chronic disease epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health.

VIRGO is working closely with the American Heart Association on its "Go Red for Women" campaign, a nationwide movement to raise awareness of heart disease as the top killer of women and empower women to reduce their risk through prevention.

"Participation by women who receive care at the University of Chicago is critical for ensuring that all ethnic groups, in particular African American women, are adequately represented in this important research," said Mehta.

"Among the many important questions to be addressed will be to understand how women recover their sexual lives following a heart attack," said Lindau, director of the University of Chicago Program in Integrative Sexual Medicine and co-investigator with the Yale team for the VIRGO study.

"We are working with the AHA to spread the word to our community about making the right choices and taking action against heart disease in women," said Mehta. "Public sharing of this information will drive efforts to improve the prevention, care and outcomes for young women and men who experience a heart attack."

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