2020 Stories

Making Women’s Cardiovascular Disease a Priority

“When women take care of their health, they become their best friend.” —Maya Angelou

For the past 10 years, Stephanie Coulter, MD, Director of the Center for Women’s Heart and Vascular Health at THI, has been prioritizing women’s health issues as a leader in her field and as co-founder of the Center with James T. Willerson, MD. The mission of the Women’s Heart Center is to reduce the devastating effect of cardiovascular disease on society and women in particular.

The Center initially started with an outreach screening program to examine the disparity in death from cardiovascular disease among women of different ethnicities, but Dr. Coulter and her team found that mortality rates were identical among women of all races. Importantly, they found that all women are at a higher risk for death than men by almost two-fold. Therefore, the goal of the screening program shifted to the identification of risk factors for artery disease.

Houston’s diverse, multi-ethnic community, allowed Dr. Coulter and her team to could conduct cardiovascular biometric screenings for glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, height, weight, abdominal circumference, and even a depression score in collaboration with trusted community partners, Baker Ripley and the Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI). This relationship with LHI led to one of the largest cohorts of cardiovascular risk in the LGBT community. More work remains to be done with the follow-up data collection, which will give Dr. Coulter’s team the opportunity to compare cardiovascular risk among multiple racial groups.  This registry study will allow the Center to analyze how the burden of disease develops and possibly spur other research projects.

The Center for Women’s Heart and Vascular Health at THI is prioritizing women’s cardiovascular health through education, research, and treatment and prevention strategies.

Education – The Center prides itself on providing medical education for doctors through a women’s symposium that has been attended by many notable professionals during the past 10 years, training them on the unique challenges of caring for women. There is also a definite push to increase the number of women pursuing careers in health professions.

Community Outreach – Reaching more than 3,200 women with 30+ free community lectures and 1,200+ one-on-one health consultations, the Center is very proud of the impact they are having on the women’s health knowledge base.

Targeted Improvements in research and collaboration – The Center developed robust collaborations with the School of Public Health and the University of Texas Genetic School that include research on the cardiac causes of sudden death in 11-15-year-olds.  In 2020, the center provided leadership to another exciting collaboration with the University Hospital at Columbia in New York City building a registry of cardiac manifestations of COVID-19 patients to better assess long-term challenges.