A relatively young and healthy woman is unlikely to be concerned about suffering from a heart attack. She may not think to see a doctor if she experiences unexpected chest pain. If this pain leads her to go in to the Emergency Department (ED), she may agree when a doctor writes it off as stress or heartburn.
That was what happened to a 41-year-old woman while on a trip with her family. She experienced severe chest pain, pain in her arms and shortness of breath. She went to the ED and was told she was healthy. She experienced similar, more severe symptoms the next and returned. This time she pushed for a diagnosis. After various tests doctors confirmed she was suffering from spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD).
What is SCAD? SCAD is the result of a tear in the wall of the artery. The tear results in a dissection of the artery or a separation of the layers within the blood vessels of the heart. This tear causes a flap within the artery. The flap will slow or stop the flow of blood to the heart -- ultimately leading to a heart attack.
Who is at risk for SCAD? SCAD most often impacts women in their 40s and 50s who lead otherwise healthy lives. Most patients who suffer from SCAD do not have other common heart attack triggers like diabetes or high blood pressure.
What are the common symptoms of SCAD? SCAD often presents with symptoms similar to other types of heart attacks. These symptoms can include pain in the chest, arms, shoulders or jaw, a shortness of breath and nausea.
If not treated, SCAD can lead to multiple heart attacks and sudden death.
The woman above suffered two heart attacks before doctors were able to provide the correct diagnosis. Her story provides two lessons. First, the importance of advocating for medical care. If something seems wrong, push for the right diagnosis. Second, a reminder that physicians make mistakes. If the mistake is the result of a failure to provide care as expected within one's profession, the patient may be the victim of medical malpractice. In these instances, compensation may be available to help cover the costs that result from the physician's failure.