Healthbeat Report: Matter of Heart

August 23, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Meghan Scheiber knows firsthand that what doesn't kill you can make you stronger.

Just two years ago, she was blown away when at the age of 33 she suffered two heart attacks just days apart. She is now pregnant with her second child. It's a pregnancy considered high risk because Scheiber has a relatively little understood and rare condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD.

"We can actually see a tear on the inside of the artery that's what a dissection is," said Dr. Ron Stella.

It was during an emergency angiogram days after her first heart attack that suburban heart specialist Dr. Ron Stella actually saw one of the arteries surrounding Scheiber's heart begin to tear.

"It was kinda unusual to especially see one spontaneous dissection but to see two in the same patient at the same time," said Dr. Stella.

When it happens blood flow to the heart can be blocked causing blood clots, heart attacks and possible death. Patients such as Scheiber may end up having to get stents. It's more likely to strike young healthy women with no warning. Now in the first study of its kind researchers at Mayo Clinic are uncovering clues.

"We now suspect that SCAD occurs much more often than doctors realize that is it underdiagnosed and missed frequently," said Dr. Sharonne Hayes.

They are also learning victims are relatively young in their early 40s on average. It can also occur in men especially during extreme exercise.

In women, it's most common in the three months after having a baby. And there appears to be a link between SCAD and a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia.

And here's another twist. This research may never have happened if it wasn't for SCAD patients reaching out to others on the Internet and then convincing Dr. Hayes to do the research.

Scheiber is doing well and is now working to raise awareness.

"It was a major shock that my life was changing, and it's a new reality for me, it's a new life," said Scheiber.

SCAD patients and mayo researchers are now working together to continue using social media to recruit others and raise research funds.

More information:

People who are interested in participating in SCAD research at Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic Blog

WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease: It was an online community support group through WomenHeart where women with SCAD found each other.

Dr. Ron Stella
Interventional Cardiologist
Heart Care Centers of IL - The Right Care, Right Here

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