A Life-Threatening Gender Gap
Pictured, left: Joan Briller, MD, associate professor of medicine
Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the U.S., yet research shows that women often receive inferior cardiovascular care.
Women hospitalized for heart attacks are less likely to receive recommended treatments than men—and women suffering from the most serious form of heart attacks, known as STEMIs, are more likely to die while hospitalized than men.
Joan Briller, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Heart Disease in Women Program at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, is working to close this life-threatening gender gap.
“When I was training in cardiology, physicians didn’t recognize that women got heart disease,” Briller explains. “We now know that almost one in two women will develop heart disease in their lifetime—and more women will die from some form of cardiovascular disease each year than men.”
To compound the problem, says Briller, “the way that plaque forms in the arteries is different in women and the risk factors behave a little bit differently. Multiple studies have given us a much better idea of how to treat heart disease in women and what puts women at risk. We now believe that up to 80 percent of heart disease in women may be preventable.
“If we can identify early predictors of heart disease in women and intervene earlier,” she adds, “we will have a much better chance of preventing heart disease from developing in these patients down the road.”
Briller’s program, established in 2001, is the most comprehensive of its kind in the city. It provides state-of-the-art cardiac screening, prevention and therapy services, as well as specialized care for pregnant women with heart disease.
The program has a research component as well. A number of studies are underway, including a groundbreaking initiative on pregnancy and heart disease—a research focus of Briller’s. “For reasons we don’t completely understand,” says Briller, “some women develop peripartum cardiomyopathy, or heart failure, during or soon after pregnancy. The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System has joined forces with 30 research institutions across the country to study the connection between pregnancy and heart disease. The data that we gather will hopefully help us find a way to treat this form of heart disease, which is the only cause of maternal mortality that is increasing."