Stress may explain differences in heart attack outcomes among men and women, according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
The VIRGO study (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients) is the largest study of its kind to follow young and middle-aged adults after a heart attack. Designed to analyze factors that contribute to differences in heart attack outcomes among men and women, the VIRGO study enrolled more than 3,000 patients from hospitals in the U.S., Spain and Australia. One of the key factors that researchers collected information on was stress, which has been shown to have a negative impact on heart attack outcomes and overall health.
Using a 0 to 56-point scale, participants rated their perceived level of stress upon enrollment into the study. Men reported an average stress score of 23.4, while women had an average score of 27. Researchers found that higher levels of stress in women were largely due to physical and mental health status, family conflict, financial hardship and the demands of caring for others.
After following subjects for one month following their heart attack, investigators found that high levels of stress were associated with a worse recovery and lower quality of life. And not surprisingly, women had worse outcomes than men, explained in part by differences in perceived levels of stress.
Findings of the VIRGO study highlight the need to address the high levels of stress that young and middle-aged women experience on a daily basis. Although stress is a part of life, high levels of stress can wreak havoc on health over time, especially when not properly addressed. Helping women reduce stress, especially following a heart attack, could not only boost recovery but improve overall quality of life.
Study findings also highlight the significant gender differences that exist when it comes to heart health. Until recently, women were vastly underrepresented in research studies, and differences in health outcomes between men and women were overlooked. Research like the VIRGO study, which intentionally enrolled twice as many women as men, is an important step in understanding sex differences related to heart health and addressing these issues.