Mothers in Augusta, Haiti share heart risk

Women giving birth in Augusta and in Haiti share an unfortunate similarity -- higher rates of a particular kind of heart failure, a Medical College of Georgia researcher said Friday.


Speakers at the school's first Go Red for Women symposium on cardiovascular disease touched on a wide range of topics, from the potential benefits of soy products in stroke to the basic differences between men and women when it comes to heart disease.

Dr. Mindy Gentry said her research into peripartum cardiomyopathy among women who gave birth between 2003 and 2008 at MCG Hospital found the highest rate ever reported in the United States. The women, who were primarily black, were otherwise healthy before developing heart failure in the month before or five months after giving birth.

About 20 percent in the Augusta study died, said Gentry, the medical director of the women's cardiovascular program for the health system. The rate for Augusta worked out to 185 cases per 100,000 deliveries but was 340 per 100,000 for black women, compared with a rate for women in Haiti of 334 per 100,000 deliveries.

Studies in California found a 25 per 100,000 rate, and one in Lexington, Ky., reported a 49 per 100,000 rate. Blacks were at 15-fold higher risk for the condition in the Augusta study, which will be published next week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology . The cause is unknown, but Gentry suspects an underlying genetic factor could place women of African descent at greater risk that is then triggered by an environmental factor.

There was some encouraging news on soy and stroke. Working in rats, Dr. Derek A. Schreihofer found that rats fed a soy-rich diet -- the equivalent of three glasses of soy milk a day -- could limit the damage from an induced stroke. In fact, early studies suggest it could be helpful in limiting the damage after a stroke has occurred, but that needs to be tested further, he said.

"We've seen some preliminary effects that are promising, said Schreifhofer, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology at MCG. "Something as simple as that would be great."

Some who attended were surprised at the breadth of work being done in the area, said organizer Dr. Jennifer C. Sullivan, an assistant professor in the Vascular Biology Center.

"Everybody that presented is with a different department," she said. "I'm hoping to promote collaboration, stimulate some grants, stimulate just discussion."