A Different Type of Heart Attack That Affects Mostly Women

Not all heart attacks are created equal, especially when they happen in women. In addition to often experiencing different warning signs of heart attack, women also are more likely to have a sudden tearing in the walls of the arteries that bring blood to the heart muscles. This condition is called “spontaneous coronary artery dissection,” or SCAD.

“In recent studies about SCAD, it seems to affect about 90 percent women when compared to men,” said Marcus St. John, M.D., an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute at Baptist Hospital. “It’s a disease that’s not well known, but people with a predisposing disease of the blood vessels will have a lower threshold for getting help.”

Heart Attack Signs in Women

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.  The signs and symptoms of SCAD are similar to those of a heart attack, Dr. St. John says. They include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath – with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain, says the American Heart Association.

Anyone who experiences signs of a heart attack should alert their doctor right away or get to a hospital,” Dr. St. John said.

The Baptist Health News Team sat down with Dr. St. John during American Heart Month to ask about the signs, symptoms and treatment for SCAD.

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