SCAD: Women Beware

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Women in their 30's and 40's with no cardiovascular risk factors are falling victim to a different kind of heart attack called SCAD. (KFSN)

Women in their 30's and 40's with no cardiovascular risk factors are falling victim to a different kind of heart attack called SCAD. Because it's unexpected and uncommon, many cardiologists are missing the diagnosis.

Forty-four-year-old Maria Ross hardly looks like a heart attack victim, but she was, two years ago. She was breastfeeding her baby when she felt chest pain. A doctor checked her out and sent her home.

Ross had suffered SCAD: spontaneous coronary artery dissection. A layer of her coronary artery wall tore, trapping blood and causing a bulge that blocked blood flow and led to a heart attack.

Jennifer Tremmel, MD, MS, Director of Women's Heart Health Program at Stanford University Medical Center, explained, "A lot of women can have sudden death from this, so it's a very severe, significant problem."

Dr. Tremmel said SCAD patients are usually young, healthy women, and often those who've just given birth. That's why many cardiologists misdiagnose it.

"They end up treating the patients as if he had had a regular kind of heart attack when in fact they had a very unique kind of heart attack that our medications aren't necessary or helpful for," detailed Dr. Tremmel.

SCAD has no warning signs, so it's critical women know heart attack symptoms; chest discomfort, including burning or stabbing pain, pain in the back, arm, or even the jaw, shortness of breath, light-headedness and fatigue.

Dr. Tremmel said, "The hard part about SCAD is that we don't necessarily know what causes it, and we don't know how to prevent it from occurring again."

Dr. Tremmel said it will, about 30 percent of the time. Ross eats well and exercises, but she said living with what she calls a ticking time bomb is always in the back of her mind.

Doctors usually treat SCAD patients conservatively, with medication and blood pressure control. Stents, which are used for other heart attack patients can actually raise the risk of complications.
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