Women’s Health Research at Yale Advances Equity in Medicine

Women’s Health Research at Yale is changing science to address the health needs of women and improve outcomes for everyone. Recent work funded by The Community Foundation is developing heart disease treatment that accurately responds to the biology and experiences of women.

WHRY investigator Dr. Samit Shah is studying the effectiveness of tests to detect heart conditions, more common in women, that elude a standard angiogram. Credit: Women's Health Research at Yale

When patients experience heart attack symptoms, doctors typically look for a blocked artery. The standard procedure is a cardiac catheterization, in which a tube is inserted through the blood vessels to the heart, and an angiogram, which is an x-ray of the blood vessels showing blood supply to the heart muscle.

While the test finds blocked arteries in almost all men undergoing heart attacks, it uncovers blockages in only half of all women experiencing heart attack symptoms. That is because reduced blood flow to a woman’s heart is often caused by a different condition that cannot be seen with the standard tests. Yet, if a blockage is not detected, patients are often sent home without additional testing or a clear diagnosis, putting many women at increased risk of heart failure.

Women’s Health Research at Yale (WHRY) investigator Dr. Samit Shah is leading new research focused on remedying this problem. He and his team are investigating the use of cutting-edge validated tests to detect reduced blood flow in women without blocked arteries or cholesterol build-up associated with heart disease.

Dr. Shah’s team is studying 100 women over two years who are referred for coronary angiography to Yale New Haven Hospital and comparing outcomes for patients who receive the standard care with those undergoing the new tests to detect coronary microvascular disease or vasospasm. His goal is to show the value of the new tests, already covered by insurance, so they become the standard of care for patients—mostly women—who have reduced blood flow to the heart but no obstruction.

In addition, the researchers are using structured interviews to understand patients’ experiences to better provide both urgent care and aftercare. They are also constructing a registry of data and procedural practice to share with other institutions, building on WHRY-funded work to guide future research and treatment for heart disease so that it more accurately represents the biology and experiences of women.

The heart research is part of WHRY’s mission to conduct research that remedies the health disparities experienced by women and uncover gender differences in health outcomes in order to improve healthcare for everyone. The research is focused on improving public health problems common in the community, including heart disease, cancers, Alzheimer's disease and other brain-based conditions.

WHRY is a longtime grant recipient of The Community Foundation. The organization's recent research is supported, in part, by a $90,000 grant awarded in 2019 with funding from unrestricted and preference funds, including the Nathan and Ellen Holbrook Fund, established in 1970 with a preference for funding the study, prevention, control and cure of heart, cancer and other human ailments or diseases.