SCAD: Women Beware


SAN FRANSICO. (Ivanhoe) — 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. Here are the details on an important story women need to hear.

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.

“The next night, it happened again, much more severe, and I came back. That’s when they did an emergency catheterization,” Ross told Ivanhoe.

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.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Rusty Reed, Videographer.


REPORT #2374

 BACKGROUND: Although heart attacks are likely to occur to people who are overweight, have a poor diet and don’t exercise; another type of heart attack can occur to healthy women. SCAD, also known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection is a ticking time bomb that can be present in the lives of healthy and active women, especially after a pregnancy.


SCAD: This type of heart attack is very rare. It is not known what causes SCAD, but most of the patients who suffer from it are active and healthy women who are going through post-partum. Recent studies have also shown that patients who suffer from this rare disease might also suffer from fibromuscular dysplasia, a condition that causes abnormal cell growth in the artery. This condition may be the reason for why the artery walls bend or tear, causing a heart attack. Diagnosing or recognizing SCAD is very difficult, even cardiologists can misdiagnosed them; so it is crucial for the patient to understand the signs and symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Profuse sweating
  • Dizziness


LIFE-LONG CONDITION: Although SCAD can be life-threatening, the patient doesn’t suffer from other heart risk factors. Normally the treatment for this condition is control of blood pressure and medication. Patients normally have a high-risk of recurrence; therefore they should reduce anything that puts them at risk for another attack like high cholesterol, smoking, and over-exercising.


* For More Information, Contact:

Jennifer A Tremmel, MD, MS

Clinical Director, Women’s Heart Health Progam

Stanford University Medical Center

For Inquiries Call: 650-723-0180

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