Summary: A new study by UK researchers has improved MRI techniques for detecting heart failure in women, enabling earlier diagnoses and increasing access to life-saving treatments by recognizing gender differences in heart function.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Enhanced MRI techniques developed by UK researchers have significantly improved heart failure detection in women, enabling earlier diagnoses and increasing the likelihood of life-saving treatments.
  2. The refined MRI method specifically for women has resulted in a 16.5% increase in diagnoses of heart failure among female patients.
  3. The study highlights the importance of recognizing gender differences in heart failure, as women’s hearts may respond differently to pressure increases, necessitating tailored diagnostic methods.


A new study has improved heart failure detection in women, enabling earlier diagnoses using enhanced MRI techniques developed by researchers from the UK-based Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Sheffield, and Leeds.

Pankaj Garg, PhD, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said, “By refining the method specifically for women, we diagnosed 16.5% more females with heart failure. This could significantly impact the NHS, which diagnoses around 200,000 heart failure patients annually. This improved method will enable earlier detection, allowing more women to receive life-saving treatment sooner.”

MRI Outperforms Ultrasound for Heart Failure

In 2022, UEA and the University of Sheffield published research on using MRI scans to detect heart failure, leading to its widespread use by doctors.

When the heart fails, it cannot pump blood effectively, causing pressure to rise in the heart.

Gareth Matthews, PhD, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School explains, “One of the best ways to diagnose heart failure is by measuring pressures inside the heart with a catheter. Although accurate, it is an invasive procedure with risks, limiting its use. Doctors often use echocardiograms, based on ultrasound, to assess heart function, but these are inaccurate in up to 50% of cases. MRI provides much more accurate images of heart function.”

Gender Differences in Heart Failure Diagnosis

The team created an equation to non-invasively measure heart pressure using MRI. However, this method was less accurate in diagnosing heart failure in women, particularly in early or borderline cases.

Professor Andy Swift, PhD, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Medicine and Population Health says, “Women’s hearts are biologically different from men. Our work suggests that women’s hearts may respond differently to pressure increases in heart failure.”

Targeting Heart Failure in Women

Heart failure can be categorized based on the heart’s ejection fraction, the amount of blood pumped out with each beat. Women are more affected by a type of heart failure where the heart’s pumping function is preserved, but its ability to relax and fill with blood is impaired. Echocardiography struggles to diagnose this type of heart failure. The new improvements will help diagnose this group more accurately and hopefully lead to better treatments.

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins says, “Heart failure affects hundreds of thousands of women in the UK, so this research is a significant development that could enable thousands to be diagnosed and treated earlier. For the second year of our Women’s Health Strategy for England, I’ve emphasized the need for more research into gender differences in health conditions. I’m delighted this government-backed research has addressed this challenge, allowing us to get life-saving treatment to women faster.”