SCAD Survivor study

SCAD survivors are in urgent need of post-care support, new study finds

8 October 2022

Imagine surviving a heart attack only to discover you not only had a high chance of it happening again but there was little you could do to prevent it.

That’s the daily reality for people who’ve had heart attacks caused by Spontaneous Coronary Artery Disease (SCAD). A disease that primarily affects otherwise fit and healthy women under the age of 50.

It’s little wonder that survivors are left feeling shocked, fearful, vulnerable, and uncertain about their futures – a situation that researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the Australian Centre for Heart Health (ACHH) are determined to improve.

The Institute’s Professor Bob Graham was part of a team that interviewed 30 Australian SCAD survivors aged between 35 and 71 and discovered they felt let down by the health system.

In a new paper published in PLOS One, the team of Australian researchers including ACHH’s Dr Barbara Murphy and Prof Alun Jackson conclude there is an urgent need for SCAD-specific cardiac rehabilitation programs and the provision of psychosocial support programs for SCAD survivors.

Professor Bob Graham says: “Unlike most heart attacks, SCAD is not caused by a build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries so there are no warning signs like chest pain associated with exercise, also called angina or raised cholesterol.

“The vast majority of people who have SCAD are relatively young and healthy so having a heart attack is a complete bolt out of the blue. Survivors are in a state of disbelief.”

Dr Barbara Murphy, of the Australian Centre for Heart Health, adds: “It eats into every part of their life. But they feel they have no one to talk to about this as many health professionals know very little about SCAD or how to manage it. They feel abandoned by the health system.”

SCAD heart attacks occur when there is a 'bleed' in the wall of the artery - caused by a tear or the rupture of a blood vessel - that blocks the blood supply. It’s responsible for around a quarter of heart attacks in women under 50 and survivors face up to a 30% chance of it happening again without any warning.

The researchers discovered that fear of having another SCAD event was top of their minds, but they also felt there was a dearth of information available about SCAD, including information related to its cause, management, and prognosis.

Professor Graham adds: “We discovered that SCAD patients had very high rates of anxiety and depression. Many are so terrified that this could happen again that they are too scared to travel because they worry about being too far away from a hospital."

Dr Murphy adds: “We’re letting these people down and we should be doing far more to help them both psychologically and with managing their condition.”

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For all media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:

Julia Timms
Head, Media & Communications
0457 517 355

“It came without any warning, and I know I am at heightened risk of it happening again which is really scary.“

- Sarah Penn, SCAD patient

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years