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Raising awareness of a heart condition that can affect anyone

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Diane Rayson with her son Neil who was at home with her when she had her heart attack. (SG050118-158TW)
Diane Rayson with her son Neil who was at home with her when she had her heart attack. (SG050118-158TW)

Until last year, Diane Rayson had never heard of a rare heart condition called ‘SCAD’.

She kept herself active, looked after her health, and on the morning on May 2 had gone to the gym, then for a walk, as part of her usual routine.

I didn’t have any cardiac risk factors and I felt fit and healthy
SCAD survivor Diane Rayson

Later in the day, she’d met a friend for coffee and in the evening headed out for a meal with her brother Graham.

But shortly after ordering her food she began to feel unwell.

She said: “I suddenly felt nauseous. I asked for a glass of water from the bar and sat back down but still felt unwell.

“I said to my brother ‘I’m fine’ and at one point he looked at me and said: ‘You’re not having a heart attack are you?’”

That it could be a heart attack was the last thing on Diane’s mind.

She said: “I didn’t have any cardiac risk factors and I felt fit and healthy.”

Still feeling unwell, her brother dropped her off at her home in Bourne where she lives with her son Neil (30) and decided to lay down on the settee .

“All of a sudden I felt a central tightness in my chest, like an elastic band,” she said.

“There was a sharp pain in my left arm and my fingertips on both arms down to my wrists were turning blue.

“I shouted to my son and he rang 111.”

The operator kept Diane (58) on the line while an ambulance and fire fighter co-responders were called out to her home.

She was treated at the scene and then taken to Peterborough City Hospital where a blood test confirmed she had suffered a heart attack.

Days later she was transferred to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge where further tests showed the attack was caused by an arterial wall tear which affects normal blood flow.

It is a little known condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) and can be fatal.

The charity Beat SCAD is working to raise awareness of the condition and points out that many patients are young and fit with no history of or risk factors for heart disease.

It says on its website that due to this, symptoms can at first often be ignored or mistaken for something else, such as indigestion or gallstones.

In Diane’s case, she was given medication after her diagnosis, had to take rest, then a gentle return to exercise. She was told that the tear would eventually heal itself.

But not everyone survives SCAD .

Diane said: “They do not know what causes it but that perhaps extreme stress could be one reason.

“My heart itself is fine but post SCAD I think about everything I do now.

“I am living a normal life but I am more aware.

“They say it can happen again but that is rare.

“Post heart attack I am probably better. I am carrying on as normal but have slowed down my pace.

“Luckily for me I was at home when it happened. I could have been driving the car, I could have been out walking. I was at home and resting.

“On reflection I had had a year of stress with my mother-in-law’s death and two dear neighbours’ deaths in difficult times, accumulating in a house move which didn’t go smoothly so it was a highly stressful year.

“The stress doesn’t go away because life is stressful; but it’s how we deal with it and using coping mechanisms that work for you.”

Diane has been a complementary therapist for many years and says she helps to keep her own stress levels down by meditating, having Shiatsu (a form of physical therapy) and is now back at the gym.

She also uses the Balance Procedure, an energy technique which she also teaches, to bring the body into a relaxed state.

She said: “Resting the mind is just as important as using it.

“I am back to the gym, health walks, dancing and holidays but everything in moderation.

“Most important, it is about listening to what our body wants.”

○ The charity Beat SCAD says that Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection is an under-diagnosed condition.

It occurs when a tear or bruise develops in one of the coronary arteries, resulting in a blockage that prevents normal blood flow.

It is said to affect mainly women and can occur during or soon after pregnancy. Menopause, extreme stress and exercise and connective tissue disorders have also been associated with SCAD but the exact causes are unknown. More info can be found at: www.beatscad.org.uk


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