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Life after SCAD

February is ‘heart month’ and the Gibraltar Cardiac Association is raising awareness of heart issues. In this article Marie Anne Montegriffo shared her personal story of dealing with heart issues.

By Marie Anne Montegriffo

Sometimes things happen in our lives that can suddenly turn everything on its head.

On August 27, 2015 I was at home doing an exercise video and suddenly I felt as if I had been struck down. I had a stabbing pain in my ears and jaw and pressure across my shoulder blades. I felt very unwell.

I sat very still and quiet and a feeling of dread began to rise up in me. My husband decided to take me to A&E. When I was triaged my blood pressure and ECG were fine.

I saw the doctor and he diagnosed that I was having a panic attack and that I could go home. Thankfully a blood sample was taken.

About an hour later I had a call on my mobile asking me to go back to hospital immediately. On arrival I was told that there was something very wrong and they couldn't explain it. I was in the middle of a heart attack, and by now all my readings were bad.

Arrangements were made and I was blue-lighted to Xanit Hospital accompanied by their doctor. I spent a night in ICU which I thought I would not survive. I was totally lucid and kept telling myself, who could have told me that I would die at 53.

Next day I was taken for an Angiogram which showed I had a dissection in my Left Anterior Descending Artery (also known as the widow maker because of its high death rate). Two stents were fitted in order to repair the tear. I had suffered a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).

It cannot be predicted or prevented. Risk factors are unknown except that it tends to occur in women, and appears to be linked with menopause, pregnancy and post-partum. SCAD patients have few or none of the traditional risk factors associated with heart disease like high cholesterol.

A few days later I was sent home, feeling very tired and weak but I blamed the new medication and heart damage. Some days passed and I collapsed whilst visiting the PCC and was taken to ICU immediately.

There I had two further episodes, the last one requiring resuscitation. I was suffering from severe bradycardia and severe hypotension with an associated nodule rhythm.

It was very frightening to regain consciousness with a team all around me looking very concerned. I was sent back to Xanit where my medication was reviewed and my problems slowly settled.

This was the beginning of life as a SCAD survivor.

Sometimes emotional recovery is harder than the physical one.

It's hard to cope with the thought that you might have died and that it can happen again, without any warning.

My husband, Paul, continues to be my rock together with my daughters Emma and Kathy and all my family and friends.

Attending the Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre at the hospital is also of tremendous benefit.

Although my heart condition is rare, heart disease in women isn't.

There is still a perception, even in the medical profession, that heart attacks mainly affect men.

It is not uncommon for women to be diagnosed with having a panic attack when men are rarely told this. A recent study reveals:-

Women often delay seeking medical help which can reduce their chance or survival.
Women are 50% more likely to receive a wrong initial diagnosis.
Women are less likely to receive standard treatments including bypass surgery and stents.
Risk factors are often more deadly in women. Smoking increases heart attack risk up to twice as much as in men. High blood pressure increases women's risk 80% more and type 2 diabetes 50% more.
Twice as many women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK.

I would encourage women to better understand their risk and to know the many symptoms of a heart attack.

Now nearly five years after my SCAD, I still live with the fear that this can happen again at any moment but I have learned to live as full a life as possible.

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