Scientists increasingly recognize the need to better understand cardiovascular disease in females. However, according to Dr. Satish Raj, MD, a clinician scientist at the Cumming School of Medicine, males are treated differently than females when they have heart problems.
Less is known about females’ hearts because they are underrepresented in cardiovascular research. Members of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative (WCHI) at the Cumming School of Medicine are working to change that. Their work is receiving attention.
The Canadian Women’s Heart Health Alliance recognized two members of the WCHI for advancing inquiry and knowledge of women-specific heart health issues in 2022. Raj received the senior investigator award, and Dr. Sandra Dumanski, MD, received the early-career investigator award.
“It’s an honour to be recognized by an organization that is doing such important work,” says Dumanski. “More importantly, it’s wonderful that this work, which is critical for so many Canadian females, is being highlighted.”
In-vitro fertilization and cardiovascular health
Dumanski’s ReACH (Reproductive And Cardiovascular Health) research initiative focuses on the relationship between fertility, fertility treatments and cardiovascular risk. She is currently studying the impact of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) on female cardiovascular health.
It’s an important consideration because demand for IVF is at an all-time high.
Scientists know fertility hormones, which are administered and manipulated during IVF treatment, affect the cardiovascular system. However, despite the rapidly increasing prevalence of IVF, little is known about its long-term impact on cardiovascular health.
Dumanski wants to better understand the influence of IVF on the female cardiovascular system, with the aim of developing clinical interventions.
“Individuals being treated with IVF are often so focused on having families that the potential long-term health impacts of IVF don’t always come up in clinical consultations,” she says. “We are working with patient-partners to learn how IVF impacts cardiovascular health with the hope of making a real difference in the clinic.”
Autonomic research in women
Raj’s research program focuses on autonomic nervous system disorders that mainly impact females.
He is an internationally recognized expert on postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a debilitating condition with more than 90 per cent of patients being females of childbearing age.
Raj also studies long COVID syndrome, which can cause problems such as a racing heart, fatigue and light-headedness, in both females and males. His research has revealed that both sexes with long COVID are susceptible to autonomic nervous system disturbances. Females often have more debilitating symptoms than their male counterparts.
“It turns out there is a big difference in how males and females are impacted by long COVID,” says Raj. “This not only has direct implications on how we treat long-COVID patients, but it also shows the importance of sex-based analysis.
“Females make up more than half the population, and it’s not a fair assumption that they respond the same as males. The main lesson is that if you don’t ask the question, you won’t know.”