In a nod to the adage “if you can’t say something nice,” I’ll be brief. A month ago, I applied and was accepted to participate in a taping of the Dr. Oz Show. The several staff I spoke with over four days assured me that I would go back stage, meet Dr. Oz, talk with the producer, and either tell the story of my widow-maker heart attack or be allowed to comment from my seat in the audience.

It was an dream opportunity: a nationally televised discussion of heart disease in women that would touch on spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), an under-diagnosed form of heart attack that debilitates and kills an unknown number of healthy people every day. Yet neither you, your neighbors, or your doctor know about it.

Unfortunately, here’s where the “…don’t say anything at all” part comes in. Literally.

The show did a tremendous job with the critically important topic of women and heart attack. The animations were incredible, Rosie O’Donnell was gracious and riveting as she shared her story, and all the key information about preventing heart attacks was reviewed. But, without my story, the discussion had a gaping hole. What do you do if your heart attack can’t be prevented?

With SCAD, there are no risk factors to monitor. It doesn’t show up in blood work. Our cholesterol numbers are great, our blood pressures low, and our overall fitness considered healthy. Some SCAD survivors, in fact, are bona fide athletes. Many of us have recently given birth, which is kind of a triathlon in it’s own right! So to present to the world that the only heart attacks that matter are those that “should be” prevented through habit changes, diet and exercise, is to cruelly dismiss the SCAD population for a cardiac mystery that truly attacks. SCAD does not build throughout a lifetime. It strikes.

Complicating matters, the trend of ostensibly blaming women for their heart attacks undermines the progress that has been made in getting women to take their symptoms seriously and seek care immediately. Don’t we all tend to rationalize unpleasant things rather than meet them head on? If a woman’s heart attack might be viewed as “operator error,” will she listen to her body or try to avoid reality at all costs? In the case of SCAD, flip the view to that of the ER doc, who the majority of the time, will NOT perceive a younger, fit female presenting with heart attack symptoms as a cardiac patient.

So how can we work to truly prevent ALL heart attacks? Through research. And that is the message I’d hoped Dr. Oz would help spread, for the benefit of cardiovascular disease patients across the spectrum. Let’s stop worrying about putting “a face” on heart attacks and get to the root causes of why women are treated differently at our ERs and doctors’ offices, and why women are referred to cardiac rehab at a rate of only 20 percent. Let’s understand the psychology of women’s heart health. Let’s learn how genetics play a role in coronary artery disease, and along the way, prevent unnecessary deaths from SCAD.

Each research effort would inform the others. And that’s not smoke and mirrors.

Through Mayo Clinic’s ongoing SCAD clinical trials, the team has already uncovered information to improve treatment. At the AHA2012 conference on November 5, Dr. Marysia Tweet presented findings that the pristine arteries of SCAD patients tolerate a stent less successfully than an artery with atherosclerosis. To read the abstract and for more information on SCAD, check out: http://www.facebook.com/pages/SCAD-at-Mayo-Clinic-Spontaneous-Coronary-Artery-Dissection/440175972694809

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