A Frequent Cause of Heart Attacks in Young Women

Ahmed Mahmoud, MD
Ahmed Mahmoud, MD

If you’re a thin, young, non-smoker who exercises regularly, what would you do if you experienced chest pain, nausea and extreme sweating?

No one is too young or too healthy to experience a heart attack. While women are more likely to suffer a heart attack after age 55, it can happen at any age.

One condition, spontaneous coronary artery dissection, (SCAD), causes a small percentage of heart attacks overall, but is responsible for 40 percent of heart attacks in women younger than age 50, according to research from the American Heart Association (AHA). The average SCAD patient is just 42 years old.

Causing Heart Attacks Differently

Typical heart attacks are caused by plaque and a blood clot that blocks a heart artery. But SCAD starts with a tear or bleed in the wall of a heart artery that blocks blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack.

“Our understanding of SCAD has improved significantly in the past decade with the advancement of newer heart vessel imaging technology” says Dr. Ahmed Mahmoud, an Interventional Cardiologist at University Hospitals Portage Medical Center. “Now we know that the cause of heart attacks in these young women is narrowing of the heart vessel caused by collections of blood that continues to expand separating the vessel walls.”

SCAD patients are generally healthy. They have no or few risk factors like smoking, being overweight or having diabetes. So even if they seek treatment for classic heart attack symptoms, they’re often misdiagnosed with problems like anxiety or indigestion. Misdiagnosis can lead to treatment that may cause more damage.

Symptoms of SCAD include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the shoulders, arms, back, neck or jaw
  • Nausea, lightheadedness and sweating

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. If you are experiencing these symptoms don’t delay care. Call 9-1-1 and go to the emergency room immediately. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be experiencing symptoms of SCAD.

Dr. Mahmoud recently joined UH Portage Medical Center and sees patients in the UH Portage Professional Center, 6847 North Chestnut Street, Suite 100, Ravenna, Ohio 44266. To schedule an appointment, call 330-443-0430.