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Yale launches landmark VIRGO study of young women with heart disease

The largest, most comprehensive study of young women with heart attacks—VIRGO (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes in Young AMI patients)—was recently launched at Yale School of Medicine with a $9.7 million National Institutes of Health grant.

“This is the first study to focus on this high risk—and highly unstudied—group.” said Yale School of Public Health Associate Professor Judith Lichtman, co-principal investigator of the study. “There have been no large, prospective studies of this population, even though the death toll is comparable to that from breast cancer.”

She said the research team is exploring what accounts for premature heart disease in women and why they experience worse outcomes than men of similar age with heart disease.

The four-year grant will support the study of 2,000 women age 55 and younger with 1,000 men for comparison. The multi-site study bridges disciplines from basic biology and clinical sciences to psychology and health services research.

Although women under age 55 with heart attacks represent a small proportion of all patients with heart disease, they account for about 40,000 hospitalizations each year. About 8,000 women under the age of 55 die of heart disease annually, ranking it among the major causes of death in this group. While most women in this age group are protected from heart disease, notes Lichtman, prior research indicates that young women have a much greater risk of dying after a heart attack than men of the same age.

The study addresses questions ranging from genetics and clinical care to outcomes, including: How are outcomes of women different from those of men" What are the genetic, demographic, psychosocial, and behavioral factors that contribute to premature heart disease in women" How do delays in clinical presentation and treatment affect the risk and outcomes of women" Do women get the same quality of care as men"

“Despite the increasing focus on women with heart disease in recent years, we know little about heart disease in this population,” said principal investigator Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D., the Harold H. Hines, Jr. Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. “Since young women with heart disease are relatively rare at any one hospital, we have assembled an unprecedented network of almost 100 sites nationwide to identify and enroll women for this ground-breaking study.”

The investigators have also developed a novel partnership with the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women, a national movement to raise awareness of heart disease and to empower women to reduce their risk by learning about prevention. The investigators will also collaborate with various other organizations.

Karen N. Peart | EurekAlert!
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