Denise's story

I am nearly 55 years old and am married with two grown-up daughters and had my SCAD event in October 2016.

Up until that point I thought I had a reasonably healthy lifestyle, tried my best to eat healthily, exercise at least two or three times a week, (which in the year leading up to SCAD had consisted of high intensity interval training quite challenging Orange Theory Fitness).

I have never smoked and only have the very occasional glass or two of red wine or G&T.

During the preceding two years I had suffered episodes of chest pain several times. I had on one occasion, six months before my diagnosis, been to A&E with chest pain but at this time all tests were ‘normal’, my pain was put down to probably ‘just stress’ and I was sent home.

Running on the treadmill

On the morning of my SCAD diagnosis the chest pain came on when I was running on the treadmill in my Orange (HIIT) training session. As soon as I stopped running the chest pain dissipated and I was able to walk to the changing rooms, have a shower, wash my hair, and get dressed without any more pain occurring.

But I was really scared this time, so I decided to go back the the A&E Department where I’d been before and had the normal ECG, chest X-ray and blood results.

This time the A&E doctor decided, after the first blood test and normal ECG reading, to repeat the blood test. The second blood test showed that the troponin level was raised, and he told me that I’d had a heart attack.

I felt a bit shell-shocked when he told me this, and I was then admitted with a view to transferring me to another hospital for an angiogram to see what was happening to my heart.

It was an extremely busy period in this particular A&E and there were no beds on the Cardiology Care Unit, so I lay on a trolley in the A&E Assessment Unit for the longest 48 hours of my life.

Because I wasn’t in acute pain I was having to wait my turn for transfer to the other hospital for an angiogram. The on-call cardiologist seemed puzzled as to why I had had a heart attack and said that we wouldn’t know what was wrong until I had an angiogram.

Whilst still on the trolley, 48 hours after my admission, with my husband and daughters standing at my bedside, the chest pain came back again, so much so, it wouldn’t settle with a dose of GTN spray, and I began to panic and shake uncontrollably with the pain,

I thought I was dying

I really believed I was about to die right there and then in front of my husband and daughters. The nurses quickly administered morphine through the IV line in my arm, which started to make me feel really sick. The next thing I knew I was being strapped to another trolley and wheeled into a private ambulance summoned to take me to the other hospital for an urgent angiogram.

The angiogram revealed a tear in the lining of my left anterior descending (LAD) artery which was so far down that it couldn’t be treated with a stent.

Terror hit me again as I started to wonder if I then was just at the mercy of this horrible condition which was untreatable and wondering if now my heart could just pack up any day.

“Terror hit me again as I started to wonder if I then was just at the mercy of this horrible condition which was untreatable and wondering if now my heart could just pack up any day.”

Looking back now, I can say that I was successfully medically managed, thanks in no small way to being registered with the SCAD Research Team at Glenfield, where I have been looked after by Dr Abi Al-Hussainy and Dr David Adlam, and my tear appeared to have healed by the time I had an MRI and CT scanning six months later.

I’m confident now that I’m OK, I don’t tempt fate by doing intensive or challenging exercise any more, indeed I was told by one cardiologist that ‘strenuous exercise may feel good for the soul but it’s no good for the heart’.

I remain under six-monthly review with Dr Abi, now at Chelsea and Westminster, which I feel I need to do for reassurance. I have had some occasional scares with chest pain and have made a few visits to A&E where, on hearing my history, the medical teams have been really understanding and had no problem doing two sets of troponin tests on me to make sure I hadn’t had another SCAD.

I also now take just Ramipril and Diltiazem every day. The Diltiazem seems to help keep Coronary spasms at bay, which don’t happen now as much as they did in the early months of recovery.

I do wonder if things will improve even more in future, as my SCAD seems to have coincided with not only strenuous exercise, but also with my awful menopausal symptoms. Some days I seem to feel that my heart is a bit ‘fluttery’ and I feel quite uptight and anxious, and I just have to slow down and try to relax, even it means writing off a day doing nothing.

I have had troublesome hot flushes day and night now for the last four years. Sometimes the flushes are bad enough to make me lose concentration completely for a few minutes, and I get a tight feeling in my chest momentarily – not the same disabling chest pain as when SCAD happened, though. In those moments I feel as if I’m cooking up and just wish the menopause would be over soon, especially at night, when the flushes first of all stop me getting to sleep until the early hours, and then once I have nodded off, they wake me up intermittently until it’s time to get up.

I don’t want to take HRT and indeed on chatting it through with Dr Abi, it seems it’s not advisable having a history of SCAD. I’m taking red clover, sage and Menopace Night supplement which seem to reduce the ferocity of the flushes a bit, so I’m going to continue with these indefinitely.

I hope my story helps anyone else with SCAD, and I’m really really thankful for all the care and support I’ve had the privilege of from both the SCAD Research Team and the SCAD Survivors Support Group on Facebook.

“SCAD seems to have coincided with not only strenuous exercise, but also with my awful menopausal symptoms.”