Researchers at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick in Saint John have discovered out a flaw in how we look at heart failure among women — a potentially life-saving discovery.
Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) — dubbed “The Silent Killer” — is only found if looked at by a doctor, but it accounts for nearly half of all heart failure cases today, researchers say. Women with obesity and diabetes have a high incidence rate, often suffering heart failure during or after menopause.
Doctors believe that it comes from inefficient pumping of the left ventricle, which happens over time and if not treated by health-care professionals.
Dr. Thomas Pulinilkunnil and a team of researchers looked at cardiovascular patients and searched to find out why women have worse outcomes. They found the prescriptions for the condition were provided to both sexes, but didn’t work as intended for women.
The researchers have been using tissues from those who came to the Saint John Regional Hospital for cardiac surgery. Using nearly 500 samples, they’ve tracked down the reason behind some of the failures.
“The hope is that we will have the drugs available to treat the patients and men and women distinctly, like hypertension, obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea,” Pulinilkunnil told Global News in an interview.
“So there’s a lot of data to cover, and we need that data to refine that diagnostic criteria to help the patients.”
Just a few years ago, heart failure was not broken into different types. Developments like improved diagnostic and imaging scans have now opened the door to finding different types of heart failures, including HFpEF.
Pulinilkunnil said heart disease is “extremely prevalent” in the Maritimes, accounting for up to 200 deaths per 100,000. He noted that it’s the most common cause of death among those suffering from diabetes and obesity.
He expects to find more complex cases of heart failure in the future as populations become more obese, which he said stems from common stomach fat — “fat droplets” or “Lipid drops” — travelling to the heart and other vital organs.
One example Dr. Pulinilkunnil showed Global News was of a diabetic patient whose cells contained an increased amount of those Lipid droplets, which is common among diabetic patients.
His team is hoping to receive more money from the Canada Foundation for Innovation 2023 Innovation Fund.
To date, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF) has also chipped in with funding.
“He started with a $40,000 grant and the NBHRF was able to support him in turning that into more than $4 million in research funding,” said Damon Goodwin, chief executive officer of the NBHRF, in a release.
“We’re pleased to be partnered with his team and the many others that are working hard to make positive change in our health care system and those around the world.”