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Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)
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Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, commonly known as SCAD, is an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. As blood flow is slowed or blocked entirely, the result can be a heart attack, heart rhythm abnormalities, or sudden death. While the condition is considered rare because it generally occurs in women between the ages of 30 and 50 with no prior history of or risk factors for heart disease, there is growing research related to SCAD in female heart patients, credited to the tireless work of a WomenHeart Champion with SCAD.

The causes of SCAD are still uncertain, but when the tear occurs inside the artery, blood pools between the inner and outer layers of the artery; this trapped blood can form a blood clot, slowing or even stopping blood flow to the heart. Some women may experience SCAD again even after it has been successfully treated; this can happen shortly after the initial episode or even years later. 

Some causes of SCAD may be:

  • Gender: Though SCAD can occur in both men and women, it tends to affect women more often.
  • Giving birth: Some women with SCAD have recently given birth. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection was found to occur most often in the first few weeks after delivery.
  • Irregular growth of cells in the artery walls: A condition called fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) causes the irregular growth of cells in the walls of one or more of your arteries. This irregular growth can weaken the artery walls and reduce blood flow. FMD can also cause high blood pressure, a stroke and tears in other blood vessels. FMD occurs more often in women than it does in men.
  • Extreme physical exertion.
  • Blood vessel problems: Diseases that cause inflammation of the blood vessels, such as lupus and polyarteritis nodosa, have been associated with SCAD.
  • Inherited connective tissue diseases: Genetic diseases that cause problems with the body's connective tissues, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome, have been found to occur in people with SCAD.
  • Very high blood pressure: Having untreated, severe high blood pressure is associated with SCAD.
  • Cocaine use.

Symptoms of SCAD include:

  • Chest pain
  • A rapid heartbeat or fluttery feeling in the chest
  • Pain in your arms, shoulders or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Unusual, extreme tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect a heart attack, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately. 

Treatment of SCAD involves repairing the tear to the artery in order to restore blood flow to the heart. There are several ways to treat SCAD through the use of medications and/or surgery:

  • Blood-thinning drugs
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Placing a stent to restore blood flow
  • Bypass surgery
  • Cardiac rehabilitation


Resource: Mayo Clinic 


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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.