Published May 22, 2019
The Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences hosted its first summit meeting dedicated to vascular disease in women May 3-4.
In an effort to better understand how gender may affect women’s vascular health, physicians and surgeons focused 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,” says Linda M. Harris, MD, professor of surgery and program director of the vascular surgery integrated residency and the vascular surgery fellowship.
More than 75 vascular physicians and surgeons attended the summit. The speakers — all of them female — were surgeons and vascular physicians from a broad range of academic health centers.
“Women’s vascular health is underappreciated. It’s about where we were 10 years ago with cardiac health,” says Harris, a vascular physician with Kaleida Health and a surgeon at UBMD Surgery.
“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,” she says.
Today, Harris says, 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 women are at an increased risk if a family member has had 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 says. “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 included providing a foundation for establishing what needs to be investigated about vascular disease in women.
Harris adds that 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 expect this will be the first of many summits to address the issue of women’s vascular disease,” she notes.
Harris organized the conference along with Mariel Rivero, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery.
Speakers from the following institutions were among those who participated: