Most heart attacks are caused by a buildup of plaque in the artery. But there is a rare and little-understood kind of heart attack that is much harder to detect
Video featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta
There was no reason Ana Gregg should be having a heart attack. She was 35 years old, fit, and had no risk factors for heart disease. That’s why, when she appeared at the Emergency Room with severe chest pain, she was sent home with a diagnosis of heartburn.
“I could have died from this,” she says. “I took some Tums, some Tylenol for the pain, went home and slept it off.”
When it happened again a few months later, Ana got the right diagnosis: SCAD, which stands for spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
Sharonne Hayes, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, is studying these rare heart attacks. “It’s when, instead of plaque building up, the artery splits,” she explains. “That can turn into a flap and the tear can spread. Blood can build up behind that flap, or the flap itself can block flow.” That’s a heart attack.
No one knows what causes the artery wall to split. Eighty percent of SCAD patients are young women, so that suggests shifting hormones may play a part.
Ana Gregg now has seven stents holding her coronary arteries open, and she stays alert to the signs of trouble. As long as she gets regular checkups with her cardiologist, she should live a long, healthy life.