No one is too young or too healthy to have a heart attack. Young women should not dismiss the possibility of a heart attack, even if they don’t have the typical heart disease risk factors.
A study being led by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute scientist, Dr. Jacqueline Saw is the largest of its kind to date investigating spontaneous coronary artery dissection (or SCAD) – an under-diagnosed and poorly understood heart condition that leads to heart attacks mostly in young women who are otherwise healthy.
SCAD is a tear or split that is not caused by any trauma, catheter, or surgical procedure in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscles. Blood can accumulate at the location of the tear or split, which subsequently blocks or slows blood flow, causing a heart attack.
Because of poor diagnostic tools, SCAD blockages have often been missed on angiograms or mistaken for cholesterol blockages, leaving the condition undiagnosed.
Dr. Saw and her research team were among the earliest groups to discover a very strong and important link between SCAD and fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), which is a disease of the blood vessels that causes abnormal growths in the arterial walls. Similar to SCAD, FMD affects mostly women.
“We routinely screen SCAD patients for FMD and we find that 70 to 80 per cent of patients with SCAD have FMD,” she says.
Dr. Saw is leading the Canadian SCAD Study
, which aims to improve understanding of SCAD, ability to diagnose, and treatment management post-heart attack. Dr. Saw hopes to enrol 750 to 1,000 participants mostly from Canada.
Dr. Jacqueline Saw is a clinical associate professor in the Division of Cardiology at the University of British Columbia, program director for the Vancouver General Hospital Interventional Cardiology Fellowship Program, and previously head of the VGH Cardiology Clinical Trials Research.