SCAD – The Uncommon Cardiac Event That May Be More Common Than We Think
For the next several days, I’ll be writing about different heart conditions. Today I’ll be talking about my own cardiac event. I hope you get some valuable information from my work.
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection also known as SCAD, is a condition that happens when there is a tear in an artery within your heart. It’s what happened to me on September 11, 2017.
SCAD is a tear inside an artery that carries blood to the heart. When the inner layers of the artery separate from the outer layers, blood can pool in the area between the layers. The pressure of the pooling blood can make a short tear much longer. Blood trapped between the layers can form a blood clot (hematoma).
SCAD may slow blood flow through the artery, which makes the heart muscle weaken. Or blood flow through the artery may be completely stopped, causing heart muscle to die (heart attack). A heart attack that occurs in SCAD is different from a heart attack caused by hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).
SCAD can happen more than once, despite successful treatment. It may recur soon after the initial episode or years later. People who have SCAD may also have a higher risk of other heart problems, such as heart failure due to the damage to the heart muscle from heart attacks.
Doctors are studying why SCAD recurs and who is most likely to experience a recurrence.
I was sitting in a Toastmasters meeting in the hospital, when I began to feel a burning in my chest that radiated to my shoulders and eventually into my lower jaw. It wasn’t clear what was happening to me so I sought help because what I felt was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
Hospital personnel took me to the ER. They promptly connected me to an EKG machine that indicated that I was in the throes of a heart attack. Right away, I was taken to the cath lab to open what they thought was a blockage in my artery. Instead of the expected blockage, they found a tear in one of my coronary arteries. I had no plaque and no other cardiac risk factors and yet, here I was. Fortunately, the cardiac interventionist knew what was happening and pulled the catheter out before he could do any more damage.
I was one of the lucky ones. My SCAD was in a small branch of a small artery in my heart. Not everyone comes out on the other side of this experience as well as I did. The resulting flap from the tear in my artery was allowed to heal on its own.
SCAD can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm or sudden death. It’s important to seek medical attention like I did even if you don’t believe you have any of the risk factors for heart disease because SCAD can cause sudden death if it isn’t properly diagnosed and handled immediately.
What they know
There is so much about SCAD that is unknown but they do know some facts about it.
- mostly affects women although it can happen to men
- most patients are in 40s or 50s but can occur at any age
- patients often don’t have any other risk factors for heart disease
- there may be a correlation between SCAD and a connective tissue disorder
- there may also be a correlation between SCAD and Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD)
After my SCAD I was found to also have FMD, for which I am asymptomatic. If they hadn’t done a CT scan to look for FMD, I never would have known I had it.
While not much is known about what causes SCAD, some risk factors include:
- being female
- recent childbirth or other physical trauma
- underlying condition associated with SCAD such as FMD or connective tissue disorder
- illegal drug use
- very high blood pressure
- possibly severe emotional trauma but not much is known about this correlation
- possibly very intense physical exercise but not much is known about this correlation
Symptoms for SCAD are the same or similar to symptoms of a “regular” heart attack. They can include some or all of the following:
- Chest pain
- A rapid heartbeat or fluttery feeling in your chest
- Pain in your arms, shoulders or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual, extreme tiredness
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or feel you may be having a heart attack, seek immediate emergency medical help. Call 911, or if that isn’t available have someone drive you to the hospital.
If you are a women who is dealing with or think you are at risk for heart disease, there are resources available to you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to WomenHeart for assistance. You are not alone. There are people who can help.
Since June 2019, I decided to hold myself accountable for walking my talk. Several years ago, I was able to take off 135 pounds and essentially save my own life. I regained some of that weight in the last couple of years and I’m working my way back down. I’ve lost over 40 pounds since I began in June and have exercised nearly every day since August.
If you choose to join me on this journey, I hope I am able to impart some nutritional and lifestyle wisdom. Even though I may have gone off the rails temporarily I can still share some of my first hand experience as well as my acquired knowledge and training to help you make the right changes to live your best life.
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As a health coach, I work with women who are facing serious health challenges like heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes or who have been diagnosed as having a precursor to a serious health issue such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar. I help them make food and lifestyle changes so they can get healthy, live longer and enjoy a fuller, happier, more energetic life. If you would like to have a free consultation about the health challenges you have and the improvements you would like to see in your health, click here to schedule a no strings attached call.
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