Doctors get the word out about deadly heart condition in young women

Meghan Stapleton, 37, is married and the mother of two boys. She was the picture of health until just days before she fell ill.

"There were no signs that my body was going south, or that I was about to have this heart attack."

Meghan felt sick on a flight home from vacation last year, but it was two days later at work, when she had to call her husband, Mark.

Stapleton recalls her symptoms.

"I said - 'This isn't normal. I feel the arm pain again. My hand is numb. I can't breathe. Come get me; we need to go to the hospital.' "

Dr. Sriram Nathan is cardiovascular disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute and UTHealth, and recounts Meghan's dire situation.

"She had to be resuscitated with CPR in the cath lab. She had to be emergently placed on a ventilator, and she had to be shocked multiple times."

Dr. Nathan says she deteriorated quickly and without warning because of a condition called SCAD, Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. It happens when a tear forms in the blood vessel of the heart, starving the muscle of blood flow. Research shows it's the most common cause of cardiac arrest in women under the age of 50.

"There were several points along the way when I did not think I was going to live," said Meghan.

She did not improve with surgery, and her heart was so damaged she needed a transplant. Today, Meghan is recovering and recently finished a 5K.

"I share my story because I would have never thought I was in this position."

SCAD gives little warning and doctors don't yet know what causes it, so Dr. Nathan warns patients not to take chest pain lightly.

"It could be simple heartburn or it could be something catastrophic in the form of a heart attack."

The hope is that you could receive help in time.

"She's a mother with two children and she has a bright life ahead, that's what this is all about," said Dr. Nathan

Researchers say risk factors for SCAD include recently giving birth or underlying blood vessel conditions. Because it often occurs without warning, even young women should know the symptoms of a heart attack. They include being lightheaded, sweating, having pain radiating in the neck, back, or jaw, shortness of breath, chest pain, stomach pain, fatigue, and pain radiating down one or both arms.
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