Study wants to shed light on heart disease in women

From left, Arlette Perry, Joseph Bonner, and Rachel Cardoso perform a lab workup on a research participant in the Laboratory of Clinical and Applied Psychology. Photo: Matthew Rembold/University of Miami
By Barbara Gutierrez

From left, Arlette Perry, Joseph Bonner, and Rachel Cardoso perform a lab workup on a research participant in the Laboratory of Clinical and Applied Psychology. Photo: Matthew Rembold/University of Miami

Study wants to shed light on heart disease in women

By Barbara Gutierrez
New research conducted by members of the School of Education and Human Development will try to identify risk factors that may increase the chances for heart disease among diverse populations of post-menopausal women.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 314,186 women died in 2020 from heart disease, more than six times as many that die from breast cancer.

There is much to learn about how women develop heart disease and the factors that can contribute to it, experts say.

A new study by researchers in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development strives to shed light on factors that impact heart disease in post-menopausal women, said Arlette Perry, professor and director of the Laboratory of Clinical and Applied Physiology. The study is titled “The Influence of Body Composition on Vascular Health and Cardiac Risk in a Diverse Sample of Post-Menopausal Women.”

Led by third-year doctoral student Joseph Bonner under the supervision of Perry, the study hopes to attract participants who want to get an overall profile of their heart health. Rachel Cardoso, an endocrinologist and visiting scholar from Brazil, is also assisting in the study. 

“We know that many of these women are at high risk for developing heart disease,” said Perry, adding that many post-menopausal women have other underlying conditions. “The study will let us know how they fare in comparison to other post-menopausal women in the United States and other countries, as well.”

Perry will be using data from a previous study, of pre-menopausal women, which was conducted by the kinesiology department. That study of 144 women showed that race and the distribution of body fat relate to vascular health and that both factors impact cardiac risk. This study hopes to include a diverse group, including Black, Hispanic, Asian, and white women.

Obesity plays a role in cardiovascular disease and is associated with a stiffening and thickening of the large blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease and result in higher blood pressure, said Perry. The current study will examine the contribution of total fat. Central, or internal, fat (visceral fat) can affect vascular health and, ultimately, cardiovascular disease risk.

On a recent afternoon, the first test volunteer, 82-year-old Romayne Davis, was put through a battery of tests that included stepping on a SECA machine, which measures the amount of internal fat in the body. “I hope this helps me in my overall health,” Davis said.

Participants are also tested for muscle flexibility, which is associated with overall vascular health. According to Perry, using an externally applied tonometer to the neck, tests will measure the overall speed of blood flow from the carotid arteries to the vessels of the upper thigh to determine pulse wave velocity and the compliancy or elasticity of blood vessels.

Other tests will be used to conduct a waveform analysis of pulse rate and the load on the heart as it affects central blood pressure.

Since factors such as diet, nutrition, and alcohol use can affect health outcomes, the study will screen all applicants and ask them to share their nutrition and drinking habits.

Perry said studying Hispanic and Black women is critical because they have been underrepresented in similar studies.

“We thought it would be interesting to see how aging impacts the relationship between total fat, centrally distributed fat, and risk for heart disease, and whether these relationships differ by race,” Bonner said.  

Perry added that although they have recruited some participants for the study, they are still looking for post-menopausal candidates of all races and ethnicities who do not take heart or blood pressure medication. Those interested in applying for the study can do so online at http://umiamihealthresearch.org/#studies/20180774

Each participant will receive a copy of their exam results upon completion of the tests.