Why doctors are warning young women about heart attacks related to stress, pregnancy

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WATCH ABOVE: Heart attacks are common but one rare type is on the rise and local cardiologists are warning women about it. As Su-Ling Goh reports, one of the biggest risk factors is pregnancy – Mar 23, 2017

New Alberta research shows a rare type of heart attack is on the rise — and 70 per cent of victims are younger women.

“Clinically, we’ve seen females present as young as in their mid-twenties with this condition… which is obviously quite scary,” said Dr. Kevin Bainey, interventional cardiologist at the University of Alberta.

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) occurs when there’s a tear in one of the layers of the artery wall.

Unlike more common heart attacks, SCAD doesn’t involve clogged arteries, and patients don’t have the usual risk factors, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Thirty per cent of patients recently had a baby, or were near the end of a pregnancy.

“Pregnancy combines a lot of these risk factors together, such as exertion and emotional stress,” said Dr. Rahul Potluri, an interventional cardiology fellow at the U of A.

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READ MORE: Here’s how women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s

To narrow down the risk factors for SCAD, Potluri and Bainey teamed up with colleagues at Aston University in Birmingham, U.K. Analyzing U.K. data from 33,000 heart-attack patients over 15 years, they found 182 had SCAD.

Common elements among those patients included emotional stress, intense exercise, fibromuscular dysplasia and connective tissue disorders.

While the average age of a regular heart-attack patient is about 60 to 65, for SCAD, it’s only 52.

“The three main symptoms (of SCAD) are chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations,” Dr. Potluri said.

At least 350 cases of SCAD are seen across Canada per year. The good news is that survival rates are high, but both Potluri and Bainey warn patients not to ignore any symptoms.

“The central message is that for young females who present with chest pain, you should always get yourself checked out in the emergency department,” Bainey said. “It could potentially be a life-threatening condition.”