Do You Know About SCAD-The Mysterious Heart Attack Affecting Women?

Written by Reshma Pathare on Thu, 21 March 2024

Key Highlights

  • SCAD is a rare but severe condition that affects the coronary arteries.
  • It is more common in women, especially during the postpartum period.
  • Symptoms include sudden chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Diagnosis often involves imaging tests and may sometimes require invasive procedures.
  • Treatment aims to restore blood flow to the heart.
  • Lifestyle changes and medications aid prevention and management. 

Have you ever experienced a sudden sharp pain in your chest, almost like a mini-firework gone wrong? No, it’s not about that extra spicy pizza slice you had for dinner. It’s a little more serious than that; however, it’s not something you need to panic about either.

Between juggling work, kids, and life in general, being a superwoman can be downright exhausting. But what if, amidst the chaos and caffeine-fueled days, your heart decides to throw in a wild card? We’re not talking about skipping a beat because of an adorable puppy video or a surprise from your spouse. No, we’re referring to something called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD.

Now, before you start furiously typing SCAD into your search bar, let us assure you that we’ve got you covered. In our health-conscious and well-being-driven society, staying informed about various health conditions that could affect us is crucial. Especially when they are as unpredictable as SCAD.

Ready to learn more? Put on your cozy slippers, grab a cup of your favorite tea, and dive into the world of SCAD.

What is spontaneous coronary artery dissection?

What is spontaneous coronary artery dissection?

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a medical condition that involves the tear of the wall of a coronary artery. In most cases, it happens suddenly and without warning. This tear allows blood to seep between the layers of the artery wall, causing the artery to bulge, thereby blocking or slowing down blood flow to your heart.

SCAD significantly raises your risk for acute coronary syndrome, a condition causing chest pain or angina and potentially leading to a life-threatening heart attack. It predominantly affects younger individuals, particularly women, and often presents without any underlying cardiovascular risk factors.

Causes and risk factors

The exact causes of SCAD are not fully understood. However, several potential factors and risk factors have been identified:

  • Structural weakness of artery walls: SCAD often occurs due to a structural weakness or abnormality in the walls of the coronary arteries. This weakness may make the arteries more susceptible to tearing or dissection.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy or in women taking hormone replacement therapy, may increase the risk of SCAD. It is more commonly seen in women, particularly during the peripartum period (around the time of childbirth) or in younger women.
  • Underlying connective tissue disorders: Some individuals with connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, may have an increased risk of SCAD due to abnormalities in the structure of their blood vessels.
  • Extreme physical stress: Intense physical exertion or extreme emotional stress may trigger SCAD in some individuals, particularly those without significant underlying cardiovascular risk factors.
  • Arterial conditions: Certain arterial conditions, such as fibromuscular dysplasia, may predispose individuals to SCAD.
  • Genetic predisposition: SCAD may have a genetic component, as it sometimes occurs in families or clusters.
  • Other risk factors: While SCAD can occur in individuals without any apparent risk factors, some factors that may increase the risk include smoking, high blood pressure, and a history of coronary artery disease.

Symptoms of SCAD

Symptoms of SCAD can vary widely and may resemble those of a heart attack. Common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain: This is the most common symptom and is often described as a sudden, severe chest pain or discomfort similar to that experienced during a heart attack. The pain may radiate to the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arms.
  • Shortness of breath: Individuals with SCAD may experience difficulty breathing or a feeling of breathlessness, especially during physical exertion or at rest.
  • Nausea and fatigue: Some people may feel nauseous or exhausted, even without chest pain.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: SCAD can sometimes cause dizziness or lightheadedness, often accompanied by sweating.
  • Palpitations: Some individuals may experience rapid or irregular heartbeats (palpitations) due to SCAD.

It’s important to note that symptoms of SCAD can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Additionally, some individuals may have atypical symptoms or may even be asymptomatic.

If you experience any symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis of SCAD

Diagnosing SCAD can be challenging due to its rarity and variable clinical presentation. The diagnostic process typically involves clinical assessment, imaging studies, and invasive procedures.

Here are the key steps in diagnosing SCAD:

  • Clinical assessment: A healthcare provider will begin by taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical examination. They will inquire about symptoms, risk factors, and relevant medical conditions. A history of recent pregnancy or childbirth may also be noted, as SCAD is more common in women during or shortly after pregnancy.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG is often performed to assess the heart's electrical activity and look for any abnormalities, such as ST-segment changes or signs of myocardial ischemia (lack of blood flow to the heart muscle).
  • Blood tests: Blood tests, including cardiac biomarkers such as troponin, may be ordered to evaluate for evidence of heart muscle damage, which can occur during a heart attack.
  • Imaging studies: Various imaging techniques may be used to visualize the coronary arteries and assess for evidence of dissection. These may include:
    • Coronary angiography: This invasive procedure involves injecting contrast dye into the coronary arteries and taking X-ray images (angiograms) to visualize any abnormalities, such as a dissection or narrowing of the artery.
    • Intravascular ultrasound (IVUS): IVUS uses a tiny ultrasound probe inserted into the coronary arteries to provide detailed images of the artery walls and identify any dissections or abnormalities not visible on angiography.
    • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): OCT is another intravascular imaging technique that uses light waves to create high-resolution images of the coronary arteries, allowing for the detection of subtle abnormalities, including dissections.
  • Cardiac MRI or CT: These non-invasive imaging tests may be used to evaluate the heart and coronary arteries, particularly in individuals where invasive procedures are not feasible or contraindicated.
  • Coronary Angiography: This is often considered the gold standard for diagnosing SCAD and can help confirm the presence and location of the arterial dissection.

Treatment options for SCAD

Treatment options for SCAD depend on the severity of the condition, the extent of arterial involvement, and the presence of any complications.

Here are the main approaches to managing the condition:

Conservative management

In cases of SCAD without significant blockages or complications, conservative management may be recommended. This approach typically involves close monitoring of symptoms, blood pressure control, and medications to reduce the risk of further arterial dissection or blood clot formation.

Medical therapy

Medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. These may include:

  • Beta-blockers: These medications help lower blood pressure and reduce the workload on the heart, potentially preventing further arterial dissection.
  • ACE inhibitors or ARBs: These drugs help dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure, reducing the strain on the arteries.
  • Antiplatelet agents: Drugs such as aspirin or clopidogrel may be prescribed to prevent blood clots from forming within the damaged artery.

Invasive procedures

In some cases, invasive procedures may be necessary to restore blood flow to the heart and prevent complications. These procedures may include:

  • Coronary Angioplasty and Stenting: This procedure involves inserting a balloon-tipped catheter into the narrowed or blocked artery and inflating it to widen the artery. A stent, a small mesh tube, may then be placed to help keep the artery open.
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: In cases where multiple arteries are affected or angioplasty is not feasible, coronary artery bypass surgery may be recommended. This procedure involves creating new pathways for blood flow by grafting blood vessels from other parts of the body onto the heart.

Prevention strategies

Prevention strategies

Preventing Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection involves managing risk factors and adopting healthy lifestyle habits to support cardiovascular health.

While SCAD is not always preventable, certain strategies may help reduce the risk of occurrence or recurrence:

  • Control blood pressure: Embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle by watching your salt intake, getting regular exercise, and finding ways to de-stress. Your heart will thank you for the TLC!
  • Avoid smoking: Kick that smoking habit to the curb! Smoking is like throwing fuel on the fire for heart problems, including SCAD. Make a commitment to quit and breathe easier, knowing you're taking a big step towards heart health.
  • Manage cholesterol levels: Keep your cholesterol levels in check! Swap out the greasy, fatty foods for wholesome, nutritious options. Regular exercise can also help keep your cholesterol in check and your heart ticking happily.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Strive for a healthy weight and keep your heart happy! Focus on nourishing your body with nutrient-rich foods and staying active. A trim waistline not only boosts your confidence but also supports your heart health in the long run!
  • Exercise regularly: Get moving for a healthier heart! Find activities you enjoy, whether it's dancing, hiking, or hitting the gym. Regular exercise strengthens your heart, lowers your risk of SCAD, and leaves you feeling energized and alive!


Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) isn’t your run-of-the-mill heart condition. Despite advancements in diagnosis and treatment, SCAD remains a diagnosis requiring vigilance and careful management.

Management strategies encompass a spectrum of interventions tailored to individual patient needs, ranging from conservative measures to invasive procedures.

Equally important are preventive strategies aimed at mitigating risk factors and promoting heart-healthy habits. By embracing lifestyle changes and engaging in regular physical activity, individuals can take proactive steps toward reducing their risk of SCAD. Through continued research and multidisciplinary collaboration, we can strive towards better outcomes and improved quality of life for individuals affected by this condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

While SCAD can occur in anyone, it is most commonly seen in women between the ages of 30 and 50. Research has also shown that individuals with certain genetic connective tissue disorders or with systemic inflammatory diseases may also be at a higher risk.

Currently, there's no surefire way to prevent SCAD due to its spontaneous nature. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle - regular exercise, balanced diet, stress management - can certainly help improve overall cardiovascular health.

Absolutely! Many patients with SCAD recover fully post-treatment and can lead normal lives. It's important to follow your doctor's advice and maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle for the best outcomes.

While SCAD itself is a form of heart disease, there's currently no evidence linking it directly to other forms of heart disease. However, individuals with a history of heart disease may be more susceptible to SCAD. 

Yes, there are several support groups available both online and in-person for individuals diagnosed with SCAD and their families. These groups can provide emotional support and useful resources for navigating life with SCAD. 

While there's no direct role of Neutraceuticals in treating SCAD, these nutritional supplements can support overall heart health when included as part of a balanced diet. They should not replace prescribed medication but can complement a healthy lifestyle. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen. 

Yes, but it's essential to start slow and under medical supervision. Physical activity is a crucial part of recovery and heart health, but it's key to balance your activities so as not to put undue stress on your heart.


Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

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Current Version

Mar, 21 2024

Written By

Reshma Pathare

Mar, 20 2024

Written By

Reshma Pathare