Philadelphia — Researchers at the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the size and pumping ability of the right side of the heart differs by age, gender and racial/ethnic groups.
"The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen, so all types of lung diseases — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and sleep apnea — can affect the right side of the heart," said study author Steven Kawut, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program at the Perelman School of Medicine. "The results from our study show underlying differences in people without clinical heart disease and could explain the variability of the right ventricular response in people with cardiopulmonary disease."
The study, reported in the June 6 edition of Circulation, also suggests that understanding the fundamental differences in the right side of the heart gives doctors and researchers a basis for determining what is abnormal. The researchers think that changes in right ventricle size and function may be a sign of cardiopulmonary disease (conditions that involve both the heart and lungs).
The researchers examined magnetic resonance images of the right ventricles of 4,204 men and women, average age 61.5, participating in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). MESA is a multicenter research project tracking the development of cardiovascular disease in 6,814 Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics and Chinese-Americans who did not have clinically-diagnosed heart disease at the beginning of the study.
They found that the right ventricle is smaller but pumps harder in older adults, is larger in men than women and is smaller in African-Americans and larger in Hispanics, compared with Caucasians.
In most studies on the heart, researchers have focused on the more-easily-imaged left ventricle, the region of the heart affected by systemic high blood pressure and other common conditions. Some of the relationships between gender, age and race/ethnicity found in the new study are different from what’s known about the left ventricle. For example, the left ventricle increases in mass with age and is larger in African-Americans than Caucasians.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded the research, the first large imaging study of the right ventricle. For more information, please see the Circulation press release.