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The University of Southampton
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Architecture of the heart different between women and men and with age

Published:?8?September?2020
Heart scan
New imaging methods allow researchers to confirm differences in heart structures in men and women.

Differences in the shape and texture of men and women's hearts could potentially explain why their risk of heart disease differs, according to research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The findings are being presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London, in collaboration with the University of Barcelona and University of Southampton’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU), used new ways to look at the heart structure of 667 healthy people - 309 men and 358 women - from the UK Biobank Imaging study.

Professor Nicholas Harvey, Professor of Rheumatology and Clinical Epidemiology at the MRC LEU, led the contribution from the University of Southampton, and is the Musculoskeletal lead on the UKB Biobank Imaging Working Group. He commented, “This study is just part of an exciting ongoing collaboration between the MRC LEU and QMUL, supported by BHF, in which we are seeking to develop novel methods of characterising cardiovascular risk, either in relation to new methods of image analysis such as radiomics, or in relation to other morbidities such as osteoporosis.”

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Professor of Rheumatology, Director of the MRC LEU, and a co-author of the UKB Biobank Imaging Enhancement Protocol, added “This new approach to analysis of cardiac MRI scans demonstrates the huge value of undertaking such large collaborative epidemiological studies in the internationally unique UK Biobank resource, and with further work, may inform new clinical approaches to achieve a reduction in the immense burden of cardiovascular disease globally”.

Led by Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, BHF Clinical Research Training Fellow and Professor Steffen Petersen, Professor of Cardiology, at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), the team looked at cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) scans, a type of heart scan used to diagnose and give information on various heart conditions. They have developed a new heart-specific image analysis 'toolkit', called CMR radiomics, to obtain more detailed information about the heart. The 'toolkit' was applied to scans of the left ventricle - the part of the heart responsible for pumping blood around the body.

When researchers compared numerous measures of heart texture and shape, they found that in men, the heart muscle was dominated by more coarse textures, whereas women's hearts had finer grained textures.

They also found significant differences in the overall shape of male and female hearts, including that men had a larger surface area of heart muscle compared to women, even after accounting for body size.

The heart shape and texture were found to change with age. Participants were categorised into three different age groups: 45-54 years, 55-64 years, and 65-74 years of age.

Differences in heart shape between men and women decreased with age, whilst texture differences remained across all age groups and dominated in older age.

Researchers will now apply this technique to the CMR scans of people with heart and circulatory diseases - including those with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease. This will hopefully reveal how the more intricate details of the heart structure differs between cardiovascular health and disease.

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