Mount Sinai Heart is launching a multispecialty Women's Heart and Vascular Center, with clinics specifically designed to screen, assess, and educate women about their level of individual risk through a team of cardiologists, subspecialists, and researchers with expertise in heart health issues specific to women. The founding director of the Center is Roxana Mehran, MD, Professor of Medicine (Cardiology), and Population Health Science and Policy, and Director of Interventional Cardiovascular Research and Clinical Trials at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“Women need to be more knowledgeable about their health, and our new Women's Heart and Vascular Center is designed to give them access to the very best specialists at Mount Sinai who can inform them of their risk for heart disease by making sure they have a full understanding of numbers such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and hemoglobin A1C, which are critical to assessing their heart health,” says Dr. Mehran. “The truth is, cardiovascular disease is underrecognized, underdiagnosed, and undertreated in this country, making it the No. 1 killer of women.”
Physicians are often not fully trained to recognize women-specific conditions such as spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), coronary microvascular dysfunction, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and fibromuscular dysplasia, which can lead to heart attack and stroke if untreated. Instead, symptoms such as angina and chest pain triggered by these diseases may be diagnosed as anxiety or other psychosomatic disorders.
“Women tend to be stereotyped into certain categories of health problems that miss the fact that what they really have is heart disease,” asserts Dr. Mehran, head of the Lancet Women and Cardiovascular Disease Commission, whose members from 11 countries have prepared the first-ever global report and recommendations for decreasing the burden of cardiovascular disease in women. A lead author of the report was Birgit Vogel, MD, a clinical researcher in Cardiovascular Imaging and Clinical Trials at Mount Sinai.
The clinics of the Heart and Vascular Center for Women are reaching out to women at high risk due to pregnancy-related complications and to cancer treatment. According to Dr. Mehran, every woman who has experienced pregnancy-related issues such as premature delivery, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or low birth weight of a child should have a cardiovascular risk assessment. Female cancer patients should also be evaluated, she adds, as chemotherapeutic agents and radiation can adversely impact the heart and vascular tissue. Future clinics will be geared to detecting SCAD, ischemia, or myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries, and peripheral arterial disease, which often affect women at a relatively young age.
The new Center is particularly committed to providing women from all socioeconomic groups with access to top-tier cardiovascular care. Explains Dr. Mehran: “We know that women of color and minorities have the highest risk of cardiovascular events, and one of our priorities is to bring them into our program so we can screen and educate them about preventive measures they can take to avoid a heart attack or stroke.” To that end, the Center hopes to eventually expand its clinics from their initial outpatient hospital setting to locations within the community.
Another goal of the Center is ensuring a greater presence for women in cardiovascular research. Not only are women greatly underrepresented nationally in terms of numbers in trials, but even when they are included in clinical studies, the data are often not disaggregated by sex, limiting the evidence-based information available to clinicians and patients. In her lead role with the global Lancet Commission, Dr. Mehran is focused on prioritizing sex-specific research on heart disease in women, as well as scaling up heart health programs in highly populated and underdeveloped regions of the world.
“We want women to know that they truly matter,” Dr. Mehran says, “and that Mount Sinai is concerned enough about their cardiovascular health to bring together under one roof an extraordinary team of specialists who fully understand and are ready to provide the primary and secondary preventive care they need and deserve.”
Dr. Mehran, a renowned clinician and researcher, is also devoted to helping women advance in the field of medicine. In November 2022, the American Heart Association’s Council on Clinical Cardiology honored her with the “Women in Cardiology Mentoring Award,” recognizing her outstanding record of mentoring women cardiologists.
“It is my life’s calling to help women, whether at the professional or patient level,” Dr. Mehran says. “There is always more to do in this regard, and I will continue to put my whole-hearted effort into this important cause, because there is much to do, and we have only just begun.”