- Former soccer pro Lindsey Huie had a heart attack caused by SCAD, and is spreading awareness about the condition with the American Heart Association.
- SCAD is a tear in an artery wall of your heart, which can slow or block blood flow.
- Understanding the signs and symptoms of SCAD and receiving treatment right away are critical for treating the condition.
As the coach for multiple youth soccer teams, former soccer pro Lindsey Huie was finishing up one of her daughter’s practices and moving equipment to another field for the next practice.
On her way, she had to climb a steep hill. By the time Huie got to the top of the hill, she was struggling to breathe.
“I [felt] like a piece of paper tore in half in the middle of my chest, and I thought, ‘Gosh, that’s weird. What was that?’ And I just start sweating profusely, and now I feel like an elephant is sitting on my chest, and I’m in so much pain it feels like fire up and inside my chest,” Huie told Healthline.
The discomfort forced her to sit in the middle of the soccer field, which alarmed nearby parents, who suggested they call an ambulance. Afraid to make a scene and scare her children, Huie pleaded to go to urgent care instead of a hospital. There she received an EKG.
“I’m thinking all this time… we’re going to feel so ridiculous when the doctor comes back and says I’m suffering from anxiety or I have heartburn, like we’re all going to be looking like fools,” said Huie.
Suspecting that something serious occurred in her heart, the doctor informed her that she needed to go to the emergency room. While there, tests determined that Huie had a heart attack caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a tear in an artery wall of the heart, which can slow or block blood flow.
While researchers aren’t sure what causes SCAD, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that people who develop the condition are often healthy women with few or no risk factors.
“Some studies have pointed to a hormonal link, showing a greater incidence among postpartum women and women who are experiencing or close to a menstrual cycle,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, preventive cardiologist and expert for the AHA, told Healthline.
Dr. Asim Zaidi, interventional cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, said the occurrence and recurrence rates, causes, outlook, and optimal management of SCAD are uncertain, due to limited evidence available to guide medical professionals caring for people with SCAD.
“Even fewer accessible and reliable sources of information are available to patients and families,” he told Healthline.
Steinbaum said spreading awareness about SCAD is important so that women learn to seek out medical attention as soon as possible if they experience symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and dizziness.
Although Huie experienced some symptoms, she was shocked by her diagnosis because she was 36 years old, in excellent condition, eating healthy, and living a homeopathic lifestyle, turning to natural remedies rather than medications.
“I had no idea that it was going to be a heart issue,” Huie said.
However, in hindsight, she said the stress of juggling an intense workload while caring for her five children wasn’t good for her health. She also believes going full force back into semi-pro soccer, more than a decade after retirement, put a lot of strain on her body.
“I was playing with kids who are in college… Probably not the best thing to do and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it,” she said.
Additionally, her mom, dad, and two grandparents had heart disease, although SCAD is different from what they experienced.
“[Although SCAD] can cause a life threatening heart attack, SCAD patients don’t typically have other heart disease risk factors. Because it often happens in younger women who don’t necessarily have risk factors, there are no clear lifestyle interventions that will reduce the risk,” said Steinbaum.
Early diagnosis and treatment are the most critical issues when it comes to SCAD.
“SCAD can cause sudden death if it isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly. Seek emergency attention if you experience heart attack symptoms, even if you think you aren’t at risk of a heart attack,” said Zaidi.
After spending 2 days in the hospital, and taking 2 weeks to recover, Huie began researching heart disease.
Learning that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, inspired her to share knowledge with other women. She joined forces with the American Heart Association (AHA) Go Red for Women initiative.
“[One] of the main things I’ve learned from being part of the Go Red for Women movement is to know your numbers — total cholesterol, your HDL, the good cholesterol, your blood pressure, your blood sugar, and body mass index,” said Huie.
Steinbaum said Go Red for Women inspires women to make positive changes in their lives for better heart health.
“We know that 3 out of 4 women who are aware of Go Red make some form of lifestyle change to positively affect their health. Awareness and education are about empowering people to take charge of their hearts, not only by implementing lifestyle changes, but also by becoming empowered with the information they need to advocate for themselves,” said Steinbaum.
The more that women understand their risk of heart disease, the symptoms, how to manage it through lifestyle choices, and how and when to get help if they have symptoms, the more potential there is to reduce the staggering statistics regarding women and heart disease, she added.
Zaidi said that women sometimes experience heart disease differently than men.
“Women are less likely than men to experience chest pain, and they are more likely to experience back or stomach pain, chest pressure or tightness, dizziness, fatigue, indigestion, nausea, or shortness of breath,” he said.
As part of Go Red for Women, Huie hopes to also empower people in the LGBTQ community to care for their health.
According to Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study, about 13 percent of LGBTQ adults report being denied healthcare or given poor care because of their sexual orientation or gender identities. Among transgender participants, that number jumped to 40 percent.
“Most research does not collect gender identity, sex assigned at birth, and current sexual orientation. This prevents researchers from accurately studying health and disease in LGBTQ people,” said Huie.