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Cardiologist uncovers spontaneous coronary artery dissection

By Richmond Sentinel

Published 4:11 PST, Thu January 21, 2021

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) is every bit as surprising as it sounds.

A deadly heart condition that affects young, otherwise healthy women, recent research shows that SCAD accounts for 25 per cent of heart attacks in women under the age of 50. Despite its prevalence, SCAD is poorly understood and relatively unknown. 

Dr. Jacqueline Saw, an interventional cardiologist at Vancouver Coastal Health’s Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and Canada’s leading expert on SCAD, is aiming to change that through research and through knowledge translation at the Vancouver SCAD Conference on Jan. 30. 

In a recent peer-reviewed study published in Nature Communications, Saw and Dr. Santhi Ganesh, a physician-scientist of cardiovascular medicine and genetics at Michigan Medicine Frankel Cardiovascular Centre, uncover genetic linkages leading to a better understanding of SCAD. In a genome-wide association study, they found seven genetic factors that increase the risk of SCAD and identified conditions with shared genetic risk factors, including fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) and migraine headaches. Further, they identified that the higher risk for SCAD was associated with a lower risk for the more common atherosclerosis-related heart attack. 

“In the past five years, we’ve learned so much about SCAD. At this stage, knowledge translation and dissemination of this relatively rare condition is critical,” said Saw. “We need to ensure this information is shared with health-care workers – family doctors, internists, nurses and staff on the front line – so that we can improve recognition of this condition for young to middle-aged women presenting with chest pains.”

Saw has assembled an international team of experts for the third annual Vancouver SCAD Conference taking place on Saturday, Jan. 30. This year’s conference is an all-day, virtual event for physicians, allied staff, students, patients and their families alike. Experts will provide a contemporary update on SCAD and explore linked and contributing factors, clinical presentation and diagnosis, management, recovery and living with SCAD.

“With the conference going virtual, we will be able to reach even more people across the world with this potentially lifesaving information,” added Saw. 

Interested participants can learn more about the Vancouver SCAD Conference and register at Registration is open to an international audience. Early registration is recommended as space is limited.

Meanwhile, Saw’s investigation continues. She is currently enrolling SCAD patients for the Canadian SCAD Study and genetic sub-study, including those with peri-partum SCAD who tend to have more aggressive form of the condition. Research enrollment is facilitated by Vancouver SCAD Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital and other participating centers throughout Canada. Dr. Saw’s research is supported in part by donations to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. The Canadian SCAD research studies are generously supported by Heart & Stroke Foundation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

SCAD occurs when an unexpected tear develops in an artery resulting in compromised blood flow and heart attack. Researchers believe that SCAD occurs due to a combination of factors – a predisposing arterial disease that is compounded by an additional trigger such as an emotional or physical stressor. To date, it’s impossible to predict which combination of factors will lead to SCAD.

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