When should I suspect spontaneous coronary artery dissection in my patient with chest pain?

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is defined as the separation of the walls of the coronary artery.1 It is thought that hemorrhage into the false lumen can result in compression of the true lumen, leading to ischemia. Although its exact incidence is unknown, SCAD has been estimated to account for up to 35% of myocardial infarctions in women younger than 50 y of age.2-3

SCAD is often associated with acute chest pain with presentations ranging from acute coronary syndrome (ACS) to sudden cardiac death.1,4 Diagnosis is typically accomplished with coronary angiography and, increasingly, newer modalities such as optical coherence tomography, intravascular ultrasound, and cardiac CT angiography.1

Clinical features that should raise suspicion of SCAD are shown (Table)5. Among many risk factors, myocardial infarction in younger women and the absence of traditional cardiovascular risk factors or lack of typical atherosclerotic lesions in coronary arteries should be potential flags for the possibility of SCAD.

Although the optimal management of SCAD is unclear, conservative therapy with aspirin, clopidogel and beta-blockers has often been recommended5 .  Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) carries a risk of worsening the dissection or causing additional dissections in such patients1. Revascularization is often reserved for those with hemodynamic instability, persistent ischemia, sustained ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation, or left main dissection.1,5

Table. Clinical features that raise suspicion of SCAD5 ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Myocardial infarction in young women (especially age ≤ 50 y)
Absence of traditional cardiovascular risk factors
Little or no evidence of typical atherosclerotic lesions in coronary arteries
Peripartum state
History of fibromuscular dysplasia
History of relevant connective tissue disorder (eg, Marfan’s syndrome, Ehler Danlos syndrome)
History of relevant systemic inflammation (incl. SLE, IBD, sarcoidosis, polyarteritis nodosa)
Precipitating stress events caused by emotional or intense physical factors ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SLE: Systemic lupus erythematosus; IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease (eg, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis).


  1. Saw J, Mancini GB, Humphries KH. Contemporary Review on Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. J Am Coll Cardiol 2016;68:297-312.
  2. Rashid HN, Wong DT, Wijesekera H, et al. Incidence and characterisation of spontaneous coronary artery dissection as a cause of acute coronary syndrome – a single-centre Australian experience. Int J Cardiol 2016;202:336-8.
  3. Nakashima T, Noguchi T, Haruta S, et al. Prognostic impact of spontaneous coronary artery dissection in young female patients with acute myocardial infarction: a report from the Angina Pectoris-Myocardial Infarction Multicenter Investigators in Japan. Int J Cardiol 2016;207:341-8.
  4. Lettieri C, Zavalloni D, Rossini R, et al. Management and long-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection. Am J Cardiol 2015;116:66-73.
  5. Yip A, Saw J. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection-A review. Cardiovasc Diagn Ther 2015;5:37-48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4329168/pdf/cdt-05-01-037.pdf

Contributed by Mahesh Vidula, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

When should I suspect spontaneous coronary artery dissection in my patient with chest pain?

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