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Research shows that women with dilated cardiomyopathy are better protected than their male counterparts

13 June 2018

According to British Heart Foundation-funded research carried out at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London, women with dilated cardiomyopathy appear to be better protected compared to men with the disease. If these protective factors can be uncovered, new treatments are possible for people with this condition.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) affects approximately 1 in 250 people and is the leading cause of heart transplants worldwide. In DCM the heart dilates, reducing its ability to pump blood out of the heart and around the body. To compensate, the heart works harder and over time, begins to tire and fail. 

In serious cases, patients with DCM are fitted with an internal cardioverter defibrillator, a small device inserted into the chest to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm if it becomes abnormal and life-threatening. Whilst there is no cure for the condition, researchers are looking for better ways to identify those at increased risk, and develop new treatments.

In this study, our researchers investigated whether gender impacts the outcome of patients with DCM. They analysed the data of 881 patients with DCM (290 women and 591 men) over approximately five years.  

They found that women were ten per cent more likely to develop heart failure and had more severe symptoms, such as breathlessness and fatigue, compared to men. Despite this, women with DCM were 39 per cent less likely to die, compared to men. The team also found that women’s hearts were less severely scarred, and the strongest pumping chamber in the heart was more functional in women with heart failure, compared to men. 

Now, our researchers are taking this one step further and investigating whether female hormones have a part to play in protecting the heart. If so, the researchers will work out how this happens and use this knowledge to help develop new treatments for patients with DCM.

Dr Sanjay Prasad, consultant cardiologist at the Trust and British Heart Foundation clinical research fellow at Imperial College London, said: “Taking gender into account, our research shows that men with DCM are at greater risk of death, compared to women. This knowledge should encourage doctors to manage male DCM patients more closely, and better stratify those who should and shouldn’t have their treatment escalated. 

“Now, we want to explore what factors could have a protective effect on the heart in women. We will harness the knowledge and work towards developing new treatments for people with DCM.”

If you would like to find out more about this research or any other research carried out at our Trust please contact us.

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