And the research found they were far less likely to suffer from known factors for heart disease – such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure – making them much harder to identify.
Dr Rahul Potluri, lead researcher from Aston University said: “SCAD is unusual because, unlike other heart attacks where the coronary arteries get plugged up over time with cholesterol deposits, it’s caused by a sudden tear where the coronary artery simply falls apart.
“It’s also seen in a much different group of people – typically young women, many of them either pregnant or shortly after giving birth. We believe that emotional and hormonal factors play a big part in SCAD attacks, although the exact cause will vary from person to person.”
The cardiology lecturer, who founded the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay and Mortality Study Unit at Aston University, said the data had enabled them to establish incidence of the condition, and identify risk factors for it. However, he said he believed cases were still significantly under-reported, with cases missed or mistaken for more conventional forms of heart attacks.
Dr David Adlam, Senior Lecturer in Acute and Interventional Cardiology at the University of Leicester, said more research was needed to increase understanding of the devastating condition, and highlighted an ongoing study funded by the British Heart Foundation.
“Predominantly, these patients are young, healthy women whom all of a sudden are stricken with a heart attack. We owe it to our patients to give them answers, so they can move forward with their lives,” he said.
Earlier this month, research by Imperial College London suggested that doctors could be missing warning signs of heart attacks in up to one in six fatal cases.