‘A ticking time bomb’ - the hidden heart condition that can be fatal to healthy women

Liz Wood, Maura Cottey and Sue Sheard (L-R) want to raise awareness of SCAD after suffering from the

Liz Wood, Maura Cottey and Sue Sheard (L-R) want to raise awareness of SCAD after suffering from the condition. Picture: Ruth Lawes - Credit: Archant

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) is a heart condition which can cause heart attacks in healthy young women. The condition, which has been reported as being misdiagnosed as a panic or anxiety attack, cannot currently be predicted or prevented. RUTH LAWES speaks to three SCAD survivors about living with the condition.

Sue Sheard said the SCAD diagnosis knocked her confidence and made her feel vulnerable. Picture: Rut

Sue Sheard said the SCAD diagnosis knocked her confidence and made her feel vulnerable. Picture: Ruth Lawes - Credit: Archant

'I feel cheated'

As an active vegetarian Maura Cottey, from Bawdeswell, near Dereham, said she does not fit the stereotype of a heart attack victim.

But last year the 60-year-old had two heart attacks in three months because of SCAD, which left her feeling 'cheated.'

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On the day of her first SCAD in April, Mrs Cottey had spent the morning paddle boarding and then gardening in the afternoon.

It was during dinner with her husband when Mrs Cottey said she felt suddenly unwell.

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She said: "I started having chest pains and became sweaty. I'd been completely well and the symptoms were spontaneous. Without consciously realising it I rang 111 and they called an ambulance."

While on the ambulance, Mrs Cottey said she fell unconscious and can remember little except from the pain of needles.

"I'd just gone." she said "When I learnt in hospital I'd had a heart attack I was in complete shock. It sounds ridiculous but I also felt devastated as I was due to train my dog Fergus and felt I had let him down."

But during her second heart attack in June Mrs Cottey said she experienced less severe symptoms and went to her GP with niggling pains before being admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).

She said: "I'm just so pleased to be alive. I just enjoy every day even if it has been rubbish. I appreciate everything more. In a way, it has changed me."

'It's a ticking time bomb'

When Liz Wood's daughter called the ambulance during a phone conversation in October 2017, Mrs Wood thought she had gone mad.

While the 68-year-old said she felt a bit funny there were no obvious markers she was about to have a heart attack.

Mrs Wood, from Reepham, said: "I had a bit of a tingling feeling, felt a bit numb and nauseous. I didn't have any of the classic symptoms you hear about throbbing chest pain and a shooting feeling up the arms."

"When my daughter said she had called the ambulance my first reaction was 'You haven't done that have you?'"

Mrs Wood was taken to the NNUH where a troponin test confirmed she had suffered a heart attack.

"I didn't believe it when they told me." she said. "I felt shocked."

Afterwards Mrs Wood was sent to cardio rehab, prescribed medication including blood thinners and was told by doctors the SCAD would heal over time.

Mrs Wood said: "It's the not knowing that is difficult, it's like living with a ticking time bomb and it has taken a while to get my confidence back."

'The psychological affect afterwards takes it toll'

Sue Sheard, from Hellesdon, refused to leave her house without GTN spray, used to treat chest pain, after a SCAD diagnosis.

"I would be scrambling for the spray before I went to bed to check it was near." she said, "You just can't stop thinking about SCAD after you've had it. I felt vulnerable."

Ms Sheard, 56, said she had a SCAD while at work as a biomedical science support worker at the NNUH.

She said her symptoms were twinges, heart burn, high blood pressure but she only sought treatment when she had excruciating arm pain the following day.

Ms Sheard added: "Everybody has had a different experience with SCAD. The worst thing is the psychological affect afterwards - which takes it toll. You just keep thinking about. I felt vulnerable."

Now Ms Sheard, along with Mrs Wood and Mrs Cottey, have joined a SCAD survivor Facebook group which has around 700 members.

The group shares latest research on the disease and offers support during scares.

Ms Sheard said: "The main problem is getting the word across. I have met medical professionals who haven't heard of it so I now I am dedicated to raising awareness about the condition."

What is SCAD? NHS Wales defines SCAD as a tear or a bruise that develops in a coronary artery which results in a blockage.

This blockage then prevents normal blood flow and can cause a heart attack, heart failure or cardiac arrest and can be fatal.

The NHS Wales website also said many patients are young and fit with no risk factors for heart disease, so symptoms can often be ignored or mistaken for other ailments such as indigestion or gallstones.

According to charity Beat SCAD most cases are in young to middle-aged women, with current data indicating patients are 90pc women and 10pc men and mostly aged between 44-53 years-old.

The charity said the cause of SCAD is not yet known but some links have been made with female sex hormones, fibromuscular dysplasia, connective tissue disorders, pregnancy and post-partum, extreme emotional stress and extreme exercise.

For more information www.beatscad.org.uk

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