Heart Smart

Ruth Davila never saw her heart attack coming. Ruth, now 61, has no family history of heart disease or health problems of her own. Between running her own construction company and keeping up with her three adult children, she was extremely active and also exercised regularly.

So when she felt an odd pinching sensation in her neck one afternoon in 2014, a heart attack was the furthest thing from her mind. She noticed a heavy feeling in her chest as the day went on, but chalked it up to stress. She continued on with her busy day, even attending an evening yoga class.

When she got home, she told her husband about her strange symptoms. “I didn’t want to make a fuss,” she says, “but he really was worried. We decided that I should go to the emergency room.”

Turns out that was a great decision.

At the MedStar Montgomery Medical Center Emergency Department, cardiologist Estelle Darlyse Jean, MD, examined Ruth and told her that she had experienced a heart attack. Ruth was immediately transferred to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where a stent was placed to restore blood flow to her heart.

Testing revealed that Ruth’s heart attack had been caused by a condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), which is estimated to cause about one percent of heart attacks in women. SCAD occurs when a tear forms in the wall of an artery supplying blood to the heart, trapping blood and preventing it from reaching the heart muscle. SCAD occurs most frequently in women, many of whom are young, healthy, and have none of the typical risk factors for heart disease. It is an important and often underdiagnosed cause of heart attack in women.

Awareness of cardiac conditions is particularly important for women, who tend to experience worse cardiovascular outcomes than men. Negative outcomes are due in part to an older average age when symptoms appear, as well as delays in treatment and diagnosis.

Women are also more likely to experience complications after a heart attack, including heart failure, stroke, and bleeding problems.

“There is a popular misperception that heart conditions are mostly a concern for men,” says Dr. Jean. “In reality, heart disease is the leading of cause of death for both women and men in the United States. Ruth’s experience is a great example of why it’s so important for women to take the signs of a heart attack seriously.”

The most obvious symptom of a heart attack is pressure, squeezing, fullness, or a stabbing pain in your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. However, not all heart attacks are preceded by chest pain. In fact, only 54 percent of women report chest pain before a heart attack.

In the years since her heart attack, Ruth is back to perfect health. She continues to see Dr. Jean for regular monitoring. For more information about Cardiology at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, visit MedStarMongtomery.org/HealthyHeart.

Estelle Jean, MD

To make an appointment with Dr. Jean,call 855-218-2986. You can also follow Dr. Jean on Instagram and Twitter as DrEstelleJean.

“Like a lot of women, I was always quick to respond to the demands of my job or the needs of my family, but I was less quick to pay attention to my own symptoms,” she reflects. “My advice to other women would be: if something is not right, don’t ignore it—head to the hospital.”

Although she is still busy, Ruth now has a more relaxed outlook on life. “Life is too short to feel stressed,” she says. She continues to run her company but is also enjoying new hobbies like language and music classes, working out in her home gym, and mastering newcooking techniques.

“I can’t say enough good things about the compassionate, personalized care I’ve received from Dr. Jean and the team at MedStar Montgomery,” she says. “Thanks to them, I’m still here—and I am going to make every day count.”