Join Clinical Trials for Heart Attacks
Heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarction, are all too common in the United States. They affect both men and women, and although they have a number of well-known risk factors, they can also strike even the healthiest of individuals. They usually occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through the coronary arteries into the heart.
Although they can be sudden and fatal, heart attacks can also produce symptoms that many people confuse with minor illnesses, which often delays their seeking help and decreases the likelihood of complete recovery. Fortunately, however, adopting healthy lifestyle choices with regard to diet, exercise, and stress management can not only improve recovery efforts following heart attacks, but help to prevent them altogether.
As a result of their frequent occurrence, time-sensitive treatment needs, and the possibility of prevention, tremendous research is devoted to discovering better methods of diagnosing and treating heart attacks, helping high-risk individuals modify their risk factors, and rehabilitating the body, mind, and spirit of those who have survived them.
What Will Clinical Trials for Heart Attacks Be Like?
The types of tests and assessments used in heart attack clinical trials will ultimately depend on the specific nature of the study and what aspects of heart attack are being investigated. Provided below is a list of frequent procedures and tests used to evaluate the heart, heart functioning, and its impact on the body in general, many of which may be incorporated for use in clinical trials for heart attacks:
- Physical exam
- Electrocardiogram (EKG, or ECG): Often the first test done to diagnose a heart attack, EKG is a straightforward and painless procedure that records the electrical activity of the heart. This test tells doctors how fast your heart is beating, the regularity (or irregularity) of your heart rhythm, and strength and timing of the electrical signals that constantly pass through the heart.
- Blood tests to identify specific enzymes that are leaked into the blood stream by damaged heart muscle following a heart attack are also performed.
- Chest x-ray
- Echocardiography (“echo”): a painless procedure that uses ultrasound to create moving pictures of your heart, which allow doctors to see its size, shape, and how well it is working. During a procedure known as transesophageal echocardiography, a long, thin ultrasound probe is guided down the throat into the esophagus, which is directly behind the heart, in order to obtain more detailed pictures.
- Cardiac catheterization: a procedure during which a long, thin, and flexible tube (i.e., catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel in the arm, upper thigh, or neck and threaded through until it reaches your heart. This allows doctors to perform diagnostic tests and treatments, as well as to evaluate blockages in the blood vessels.
- Coronary angiography: a procedure during which a dye is injected into a vein in your arm and then viewed using a special x-ray machine, CT scanner, or MRI machine. This allows doctors to view the insides of the arteries that provide blood to your heart. Angiography may also be used to evaluate other blood vessels throughout the body.
- Stress test: a test performed while you exercise (usually by walking or running on a treadmill, or pedaling a stationary bicycle), which allows doctors to evaluate how your heart works during episodes of physical stress.
- Computed tomography (CT scan, or “CAT scan”) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans: these are non-invasive imaging procedures, similar to an x-ray, that allow doctors to take detailed pictures of your heart.
- Blood tests to evaluate the effectiveness or chemical properties of a medication, if you are participating in a clinical trial that is investigating the use of a new drug.
- Pain and quality of life assessments, as well as exercise diaries, may also be required in some studies, depending on the research question being studied.
Typical Protocol for Clinical Trials for Heart Attacks:
Specific examples of Clinical Trials for Heart Attacks might include the following:
- A long-term study conducted among women ages 18 to 55 with a recent history of heart attack, during which genetic, lifestyle/behavioral, and clinical information is collected to determine which factors are associated with a a poor recovery following a heart attack.
- A randomized clinical trial to determine if a new drug designed to treat heart damage immediately following a heart attack is safe and effective when administered to heart attack patients already undergoing standard treatment via cardiac catheterization. In a trial such as this, these patients would be compared to a similar group of patients receiving treatment via cardiac catheterization; however the comparison group would receive a placebo rather than the investigational drug (see text below regarding randomized trials and placebos).
- A study to determine if a cardiac rehabilitation program for heart attack survivors has a greater impact on improving depressive symptoms than standard psychotherapy for depression.
- A study in which heart attack survivors and any of their first- and second-degree relatives who also have a history of heart attack provide blood and tissue samples for the purposes of genetic analysis.
A brief word about randomized trials and placebos:
Many clinical trials, to include clinical trials for heart attacks, involve the comparison of an investigational treatment to a “standard” treatment. Some studies determine which therapy a patient receives through a process known as randomization, in which patients are randomly assigned to receive either the investigational treatment or the standard treatment.
On occasion, a trial will investigate the use of a standard treatment plus a new drug compared to standard treatment plus a placebo (such as the second clinical trial example given above). Placebos are inactive or “sham” treatments that are identical in appearance to the active treatment but have no therapeutic value.
Placebos are necessary to help determine if adverse effects that occur during the clinical trial are the result of the investigational treatment or due to some other factor. They also allow researchers to measure the effects of the active treatment and observe what would have happened without it.
In rare instances where no standard therapy exists, or when a new drug or therapy is being investigated, the investigational treatment might be compared to a placebo alone. In these types of trials, those patients who are randomized to the placebo group do not receive an active treatment.
It is important to know that placebo-only trials are only conducted when scientifically necessary and when patients have been adequately informed that they may end up receiving the placebo rather than the active treatment.
It is very important to note, however, that no one should ever participate in such a placebo trial when there is a widely available and highly effective standard treatment already in existence for their particular disease or condition.
Trial Eligibility and Medical Information Needed:
The type of clinical trial you may be eligible for often depends on many factors, including your history of heart disease, treatment history, and a variety of clinical findings. Therefore, it is important to know many details pertaining to your specific diagnosis when searching for clinical trials. Examples of the details you may want to have on hand include:
- Your prior history of heart disease
- Your prior history of treatment for heart disease (including any surgeries, procedures, and medications)
- Your current medications (including aspirin), vitamins, and dietary supplements
- Your most recent blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride (i.e., lipid) levels
Suggested Search Terms:
Once you are ready to begin your search for clinical trials, the following terms may be of use (note: you will likely obtain similar search results whether you use ‘myocardial infarction’ or ‘heart attack’ as the main search term): “heart attack rehabilitation,” “heart attack risk factors,” “heart attack prevention,” “heart attack treatment,” “heart attack symptoms,” “heart attack exercise,” “heart attack diabetes,” “heart attack high blood pressure,” “heart attack youth,” “clinical trials for heart attacks,” “heart attack quality of life,” and “heart attack depression.”
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