HomeLifestyleHealth & FitnessWhy Women's Heart Attacks Are Often Missed? New Research Explains

Why Women’s Heart Attacks Are Often Missed? New Research Explains

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Many of the present monitoring and lab tests for heart disease do not accurately depict known changes in women’s heart disease, says Jennifer Dungan, an associate professor at the University of Florida College of Nursing. This oversight has raised health care equity gaps.

Women are more likely than males to report unusual symptoms of heart disease, receive delayed treatment for heart disease, and have heart attacks that go misdiagnosed “because of this disparity,” Dungan notes. “For reasons that remain uncertain, women can experience heart disease differently than men. This can lead to inequities for women that need to be addressed.”

According to Dungan, some of the discrepancies in symptoms and results are thought to be related to genetic differences between sexes. She has found a gene called RAP1GAP2 that she thinks might be to blame.

According to Dungan, “RAP1GAP2 is a strong candidate for sex-linked effects on women’s outcomes in heart disease.”

The professor adds: “Certain DNA markers in this gene are thought to manage the activity of platelets, colorless blood cells that help our blood clot. This also presents a heart attack risk. An overactive gene could cause too many platelets to respond to the clot, which could block the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle and lead to a heart attack.”

She thinks this gene may function differently in women because RAP1GAP2 was not associated with worse heart outcomes in her team’s study of men. Her group included professors from the faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy, and Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida (UF). American Heart Journal Plus reported their findings.

Even less is known about these variations between racial and ethnic groups. Due to a variety of reasons, including Dungan’s theory that heredity may play a role, Black women and some Hispanic women are at an even higher risk of having bad outcomes from heart disease.

Sadly, Dungan noted, the traditional methods used to study racial and ethnic groupings sometimes give irrelevant conclusions.

“The goal is not to find biological differences between groups of people. Our goal instead is to find the gene markers most accurately linked to heart disease for all women,” she adds. 

And in order to do that, we must also take into account the genetic diversity of women.

Dungan’s most recent project, funded by a two-year grant from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health, seeks to identify the precise RAP1GAP2 gene markers that most strongly correlate with disease symptoms, heart attacks, and death in women from various racial and ethnic groups. The goal is to learn how the gene may impact cardiac disease risks among women of different backgrounds.

Dungan and her team will employ statistical genetics tools to evaluate the health records of 17,000 postmenopausal women to determine if particular DNA markers on RAP1GAP2 are associated with heart disease.

To account for the natural diversity of our genetic code, her team will also employ genetic ancestry markers in lieu of contrived racial designations. This will guarantee that Dungan’s team finds DNA markers that reflect the risk of heart disease in all women, not only for specific groups, she claims.

At the conclusion of the study, she added, “if RAP1GAP2 gene markers accurately reflect women’s heart symptoms and predict their likelihood of a future heart attack, stroke or death, then those gene markers could help us be more confident in their diagnosis and future prognosis.”

More precise biomarkers for women would increase health equity for all women while also saving lives.

Image Credit: Getty

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