The little known heart attack that strikes ‘fit and healthy’ women as young as 22

WHEN you think of a heart attack you immediately picture someone who is older and might already have underlying health issues.
young african american businesswoman having heart attack or chest pain

But experts have warned women as young as 22 could be struck down by a little-know condition.

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) happens when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart.

It can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm or sudden death, experts at the Mayo Clinic say.

In general, it’s an uncommon condition, but doctors are urging women to push for a diagnosis and care when it comes to the symptoms.

The condition is most common in women aged 30 to 60 – but experts have now warned that it is reaching fit and healthy women as young as 22.

One 33-year-old woman said she felt as though she had an ‘elephant on her chest’ and could barely walk from the condition.

When she first started feeling unwell, she felt as though she didn’t need to worry as she said she was “generally fit and healthy”.

Michele DeMarco waited in A&E for 45-minutes, with doctors dismissing her symptoms as a panic attack.

After multiple tests it was revealed that she was actually having a heart attack, one report said.

Doctors had believed Michele had been “addicted to cocaine” and she claims that medics “didn’t know what to do”.

In total, Michele said she has suffered three SCAD heart attacks in the last ten years.

In another case, a woman in her early 30s called 911 in the US and told the operator she was experiencing “excruciating chest pains”.

Paramedics attended and claimed it wasn’t a heart attack and left the house.

Just hours later the patient was driven to hospital where tests confirmed she had in fact suffered SCAD.

Director of Mayo’s SCAD Research Program Sharonne N. Hayes said health care officials should not be dismissing patients that are worried.

She has spoken with a host of patients who have suffered with the issue – some in their early 20s.

She said: “Like a regular heart attack, patients may experience a range of symptoms like chest pressure, pain, and shortness of breath. But what’s different is who’s having it.

“We don’t expect a 22-year-old to have heart attack symptoms.”

Dr Hayes says one of the many reasons women are misdiagnosed is because clinical trials into SCAD haven’t included women.

SCAD differs from a normal heart attack in that the artery can be delicate and sometimes unravelled, whereas in a normal heart attack patients will often have a stent or balloon inserted to open the artery.

Dr Hayes thinks many medics don’t know the signs of SCAD and therefore don’t know how to treat it.

Research from the American Heart Association found SCAD is responsible for 35 per cent of heart attacks in women under the age of 50.

Risk factors for the condition include recent childbirth and underlying blood vessel conditions including fibromuscular dysplasia – this causes irregular growth of cells in artery walls.

Another risk factor includes high blood pressure and connective tissue diseases like vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Marfan syndrome.

Dr Hayes added that it’s important that you speak up if you think you have the condition.

He said: “Say what you really feel, and if you’re about to be dismissed without much of a workup, that’s when you refuse to leave.”

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