1. What Is SCAD?

SCAD is uncommon, though more common than once thought,  and can cause a number of serious problems.  The physiology of SCAD is different from other, more “typical” heart attacks.  It affects mostly women in their 40s and 50s, who don’t have known cardiovascular risk factors. However, the symptoms of SCAD are the same as other heart attacks and should be responded to quickly and urgently.

How SCAD happens

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection — or SCAD — is an uncommon emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart. When the tear separates the inner and outer layers of the artery,  blood can pool between the layers. The pressure of the pooling blood can make a short tear much longer, and blood trapped between the layers can form a blood clot (hematoma).  SCAD can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm or sudden death.

SCAD most commonly affects women in their 40s and 50s, though it can occur at any age or in men. People who develop SCAD are often healthy without “typical” heart attack risk factors.

It's not yet clear what causes SCAD, but SCAD is non-atherosclerotic (that is, not due to the hardening of the arteries), which makes it different from most heart attacks.

Understanding and responding to symptoms of SCAD

SCAD can be dangerous if not promptly diagnosed and treated. Seek emergency attention if you experience heart attack signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Chest pain and/or pressure
  • A rapid heartbeat or fluttery feeling in your chest
  • Pain in arms, shoulders or jaw
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating
  • Unusual, extreme tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

If you experience chest pain or suspect you're having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number.  If you don't have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only as a last resort.