Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

I thought it was indigestion!

February 18, 2016

Two weeks ago I became a very shocked SCAD survivor. My symptoms started one morning just after breakfast as I got into my car to drive to a routine dental appointment. Suddenly I had a really sharp pain just below my sternum in what seemed to be my abdomen, and I felt really sick. Having had food poisoning 3 weeks earlier, my first thought was “oh, no what have I eaten now to upset my stomach??”

I am a slim non smoking gym loving 57 year old woman, who is very active and rarely ill. It’s not unusual for me to go to 5 different classes at the gym each week and then cycle 30 miles at the weekend.

I drove the 10 miles to the dentist and to my embarrassment, was very sick in the car park but immediately felt much better and the pain almost went away. So after cleaning my teeth and having my check up, I then drove 30 miles to keep my appointment visiting a bereaved family. I’m a retired nurse and am self employed and work in the funeral industry – it’s a wonderful job, very rewarding and much less stressful than nursing ever was.

All this time the pain was just a nagging ache in my stomach and didn’t ever seem to be in my chest. Having driven home I didn’t feel too bad, not hungry, just a bit tired. Thank goodness, I decided to cancel my usual Spin Class at the gym that evening.

After I ate a biscuit the pain came back with a vengeance and I kept vomiting – each time the pain reduced, so I continued to think I had a gastric problem which would resolve if I just sipped water and got some sleep. My husband was working 200 miles away, so I was home alone.

However I couldn’t sleep and by 3am felt really ill and somewhat frightened (that sudden feeling of doom they tell you about in nurse training?) so I decided to call the Out of Hours system for advice. They asked loads of questions and came to the conclusion that I probably had indigestion, wasn’t an emergency but should go to hospital for a check up. When I said I was alone, they told me that I “probably shouldn’t drive myself!” but should call a taxi.

Thankfully my lovely son in law rushed round and kindly drove me to hospital where I felt I was wasting their time and kept apologising for bothering them with my indigestion. Everyone was really kind and the doctor said that I definitely wasn’t a typical heart attack candidate and probably had bad acid and my ECG was normal.

As my husband arrived I suddenly found myself being whisked to CCU as my bloods showed I’d had a heart attack (troponium was over 3000 – normal is below 15) and on closer inspection my ECG was abnormal. I remember crying and not being able to take in all I was being told and saying that I needed to go home as I had a really important funeral to conduct later that day.

The ward was very busy but the staff were wonderful and gradually it dawned on me that that this was serious and I needed to stay put. Over the next few days I had lots of blood tests and egg’s and an echo cardiogram and finally an incredibly painful angiogram which showed a large SCAD had occurred. All my other coronary arteries were “sparkling clean” and I had no sign of artery disease whatsoever.

So now I’m home with more questions than answers, taking bucket loads of tablets which are giving me lots of unwelcome side effects and awaiting “cardiac rehab”. I’m not allowed to drive for 4 weeks and have decided to take that amount of time off work too as I’m so tired, but really I’m just so grateful I didn’t die as the doctor said I could have if I’d gone to the gym or continued to ignore my pain.