June 8, 2018

What happens next?

My previous post made shocking reading I know, there's no way to sugar coat having a heart attack, I wish there was.

It has taken a long time to get back to anywhere near normal, both physically and mentally, I am getting there though, and if it helps others, and also raise awareness about a few things, I'd like to write a bit about what happened next.

In hospital, wired up to a heart monitor with a cardiac nurse watching every beat, its calming to know if anything else bad happens, you're in the right place. Returning home is a mixed bag of emotions,
nights spent almost counting the breaths, and checking my pulse. The early days are terrifying. Many Cardiologists are unfamiliar with SCAD, and are also unsure how to treat it. Since it happened to me, there has been a research paper published which includes a suggested treatment plan, recommending no stenting of the dissected artery, opting for medication instead (dual antiplatelet therapy, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors etc), I was on 7 tablets a day (now reduced to just 2!).

Next, was 6 weeks of taking it very easy, during that time I learned the hard way how vital resting was, did too much too soon, 2 weeks post SCAD I was back in an ambulance with chest pains again and an overnight stay on the cardiac ward. The arteries need time to heal, and that means giving the heart a rest. Following that, it's an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the chest), from this, they can work out the LV function or how efficiently your heart is pumping out blood, normal range is between 55-70%, this number will reduce if there's been heart damage or if there's heart disease. The heart damage can occur during a heart attack, the reduced blood supply causes the heart muscle to die off. At the moment, it looks like I have been very lucky, no muscle damage means my LV function is around 65%, totally normal. This is possibly because I sought treatment quickly, I was given aspirin and GTN spray within an hour of the symptoms starting, both took pressure off my struggling heart potentially reducing lasting damage.   

I have just had an MRI scan, am waiting for a CT scan next. These scans are looking for a number of things, one is investigating why the SCAD happened (but more on that in another post), they are also looking to see that the 2 arteries that dissected have healed, and also if there is any scar tissue left behind. At the moment, I'm playing the waiting game for all the results. 

SCAD has its own set of after effects, I have had a lot of chest pain, the theory is this pain is unique to a SCAD and is caused by arterial spasms as the arteries heal. It feels like a bee in my chest, I can feel a spasm coming on, it almost buzzes, then the pain starts. It comes and goes in waves, accompanied by dizziness, sweating, it's most unpleasant. These spells have gradually decreased in severity and frequency, but I do still have bad days.

I'm writing about this as SCAD mainly affects women, healthy women, it is not linked at all to heart disease or high cholesterol, and women are twice as likely to die from a heart attack than men. This is for a number of reasons, one being that women have a higher tendency to dismiss symptoms and not seek medical help, or when they do, the symptoms are dismissed as emotional, eg panic attack/anxiety based, rather than physical. More women also die of heart attacks or heart disease than of cancer. I found this on You Tube, not a SCAD but the heart attack symptoms are very similar to what happened in my case (yes, that is Elizabeth Banks!).

If you'd like to know more about what a SCAD is, this also helps explain what actually happened inside 2 arteries in my heart that November morning...

I joined SCAD research and have taken part is some additional tests which will go towards the international investigating going on to learn more about SCAD, why it happens and genetic markers. This research is taking place at the Mayo Clinic in USA and also at Glenfield Hospital here in the UK. This weekend there is a SCAD conference with many SCAD survivors attending plus the 3 UK based expert Cardiologists, it will be an interesting day on many counts, not least due to being in a room of at around 63 (at last count) others who all know exactly what I've been through as they have all been there themselves.

There are many reasons why you may experience chest pain, but if that pain comes with other symptoms, dizziness, sweating, pain radiating elsewhere, or if your instinct is just that something is not quite right, go get help, just get checked out. 

It could save your life.