Get up, get the kids up, go to work, pick up the kids, come home, cook dinner, clean up dinner, vacuum, help with homework, get the kids in bed, get yourself to bed, get up and repeat all over again the next day - does this sound familiar?

It could be the daily routine for many millions of American women. But could it also be a contributing factor in heart attack risk? The American Heart Association estimates that about 10,000 women each year between the ages of 29 and 44 suffer from heart attacks and after these heart attacks, research studies suggest that women have worse recoveries than men in the same age cohort.

In the Tuesday, Feb. 10, Nurse's Notes article, Leah Klundt brought to our attention that women-focused cardiac research comprises less than one-quarter of all funded research for heart disease. Although this is true, there are some important projects going on to try to change that statistic and gather information specific to women, heart attacks and, most importantly, factors that influence recovery.

Women twice as likely to die

Women ages 55 and younger are twice as likely to die during hospitalization from heart attacks than men in the same age group. What we do not know is why. As women and men age, their risks of death after a heart attack seem to become more equal. It is critical to the care of women that we try to find out what factors account for their increased risk of death when they have heart attacks at younger ages.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, in conjunction with Yale University, has sponsored a study to try to get to the bottom of this disturbing trend. The study, titled "Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes on Young Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI) Patients," more commonly know as VIRGO, is designed to study young women and men with heart attacks.

What will the study do?

A total of 2,000 women and 1,000 men ages 18 to 55 will be enrolled in the study from 120 hospitals around the country, including St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center. Participants will be interviewed before they leave the hospital after suffering from a heart attack and twice more in the course of the year. The participants will submit a blood sample about four weeks after their heart attack to be analyzed for genetic and biomarker analysis that may be associated with increased risk factors for heart disease.

The most important data however will likely be gathered from the interviews. Socioeconomic status, the double load of work and family, as well the stress of the caregiver role may be powerful risk factors that could help explain why young women have worse recoveries from heart attacks. During the interviews, participants are asked questions that will give insight into their specific lifestyle choices, ethnic backgrounds and perceived stress levels. Participants will describe the symptoms they had during their heart attack and how they were treated when they sought medical attention for those symptoms.

The VIRGO study hopes to highlight the sex differences in outcomes of heart attacks as well as help physicians by developing tools aimed at identifying those women at high risk of recovering poorly. This would be a valued contribution to the future treatment of women suffering from heart attacks.

Kate DelHomme is a registered nurse and clinical research coordinator at the International Heart Institute of Montana Foundation at St. Patrick Hospital.

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