A Unique Heart Concern for Women During the Postpartum Period

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Mother Breast Feeding Newborn BabyAfter having a baby, the body is in a state of flux. During the postpartum period, women may experience fluctuating hormones and possible changes in the circulatory system. Some of these changes may be the underlying cause for SCAD (spontaneous coronary artery dissection), a rare and potentially fatal heart problem.

What Is SCAD?

In the unlikely event of SCAD, a tear occurs in a coronary artery. This leads to acute coronary syndrome, which describes a range of conditions, including heart attack, that reduce blood flow to the heart. With SCAD, blood leaks from the artery, which can cause a blockage and deprive the heart of blood. Without prompt medical treatment, SCAD can be fatal.

The Postpartum Connection

Although the causes of SCAD aren’t clear, researchers believe that pregnancy or the postpartum period can be triggers for this deadly heart syndrome. SCAD is more than twice as common in women than in men, with more than 70 percent of all cases afflicting women under the age of 50. Approximately one-third of those cases occur in women during the postpartum period.

With prompt medical care, an arterial tear can be repaired and blood flow can be restored to the heart.

Understanding the Symptoms of SCAD

Part of what’s mystifying about SCAD is that the majority of cases occurs in people with no risk factors or underlying conditions. Because SCAD may be difficult if not impossible to identify before it leads to a heart attack, it’s vital that people understand heart attack symptoms. For women who’ve recently given birth, the following symptoms require immediate medical attention:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pain in arms, shoulder or jaw

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, call 911 or seek medical help immediately.