How will you be diagnosed with a SCAD heart attack?

To diagnose a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, your doctor may order the following tests after reviewing your symptoms:

  •  Blood tests – specifically testing for troponin levels, the protein in your blood stream which indicates heart muscle damage
  • Coronary angiogram –this is a special x-ray where dye is injected into your arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. This may be done via an artery at the elbow or the groin. An angiogram will show any blockages in these arteries and possibly a tear within the artery wall
  • Electrocardiograms  (ECG)– electrodes are attached to the skin on your chest, arms and legs to check how your heart is functioning by measuring the electrical activity of the heart
  •  Intravascular ultrasound –is a diagnostic test. This test uses sound waves to see inside blood vessels. It is useful for evaluating the coronary arteries that supply the heart
  • Optical coherence tomography is another test to look inside blood vessels for a blockage due to a clot within the blood vessel wall
  • CT scans – this is like a coronary angiogram. It has the advantage of not requiring a tube to be inserted into an artery but is less precise than a coronary angiogram.
  • Echocardiogram-Ultrasound waves from a probe placed on the chest used to look at the heart structures and the pumping action of the heart

Is cardiac rehab recommended if you’ve suffered a SCAD heart attack?

Cardiac rehabilitation is definitely recommended after surviving a SCAD heart attack. Each case of SCAD will be different, which is why a customised program is vital in easing your way back into a normal routine. A cardiac rehabilitation program often includes monitored exercise, nutritional counselling, emotional support and education.

Your doctor may also suggest alternate types of care to help with your recovery.

What are the types of medications you should avoid?

If you suffer from migraines, which are commonly associated with SCAD, the use of triptans as drugs to treat your condition should be avoided. Your GP and Chemist will be able to guide you on the best alternative medications for you.

Since it is believed that there is a hormonal link to SCAD, you may be directed to take a non-hormonal form of birth control and avoid taking any hormone therapies.

Coping & support: Your New Normal

Experiencing a SCAD heart attack can be an extremely unexpected and frightening event. Seeing that this condition often affects people who have very few or no risk factors for heart disease it can be very scary for the sufferer and their families. The good news is that the prognosis for those treated in a hospital is excellent and generally the tear in the coronary artery heals within a few months.

Every case is different – you will likely feel more fatigued or tired for some time after your SCAD. Some people take up to 3-6 months or more to find their new normal. Some SCAD survivors experience mild unexplained chest pain following their heart attack – it is important to give yourself time to recover and to seek urgent medical advice if you have any concerns.

 It is perfectly normal to need time to accept what has happened to you and to come to terms with changes in your everyday life. In fact, anxiety or depression after a cardiac event is so common that it even has a name – post cardiac or situational depression – the good news is that it’s common, treatable and often temporary. To find out more about anxiety and depression go to www.BeyondBlue.com.au   

Each person will have a different way of dealing with, and understanding their diagnosis, but it’s important that you do take the time in processing your SCAD heart attack and build yourself back up to your ‘new normal’.

Some tips can include:

  • Manage stress and anxiety

Don’t ignore your mental health: A lot of the time your SCAD diagnosis will come as a shock, and with that it will be normal to experience some level of stress and anxiety. It is understood that there could be a connection between stress and SCAD, so it’s important you find ways of managing the stress and anxiety in your life. A few ways to do this includes:

  • Talk to someone

Whether it be a psychologist, GP or family member it’s important to talk about what you’re feeling and voice any fears or concerns you have about your health that may be causing you stress or anxiety

  • Take care of yourself

Help your body recover by making sure you have enough sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet and find ways to cope with stress (e.g. trying meditation, listening to music)

  • Connect with others living with SCAD

Join a community that understands what you’ve been through. There is an Australian Facebook group for SCAD survivors, connecting women & men from around the country who have been through similar experiences https://www.facebook.com/groups/AustralianSCADsurvivors/. There are also Facebook Support groups from family members of SCAD patients.

If you or someone you know would like further support go to https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ or call Beyond Blue Australia on 1300 22 4636 for support & advice.