Young Mother Finds Support for Anxiety after Rare Cardiac Event
Susan Campbell, a 39 year-old mother of two small children from Haddon Township, NJ, simply didn’t feel right on the morning of September 29, 2017. As Susan describes, “I felt an impending sense of doom…I thought about laying my head down on the table, but knew I would not wake up if I did.”
Alarmed by what was happening, Susan called 911 and soon arrived by ambulance to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. There, physicians diagnosed her with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), which had caused a blockage in her heart that resulted in a heart attack.
SCAD is a tear in one of the three layers of the artery wall. It's rare cardiac issue that can be difficult to diagnose, and it most often affects younger women. In Susan’s case, her care team performed a cardiac catheterization to clear the blockage. Thankfully, there wasn’t any damage to her heart muscle.
Although physically restored, Susan experienced depression and anxiety in the two years following the event. “The doctors don’t really know why SCAD happens,” she says. “I ask myself, ‘Could it happen again? What if I go to sleep and never wake up?’ I feel like I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
To help sort through these feelings, Susan has become a regular member of WomenHeart, a Virtua-hosted support group for women who have experienced cardiac events, which she credits with helping to ease her anxiety. “It really helps to talk to other women who can relate to what you are feeling,” she says.
“Depression and anxiety are common after the onset of a serious medical condition,” explains Virtua psychologist Kathleen McFarlane. “People benefit from talking about their emotional responses to illness with either a mental health provider or in a support group. Many people prefer to discuss the changes their medical condition has had on their lives with others who have experienced similar situations.”
Virtua cardiologist Rozy Dunham, MD, agrees: “I often discuss the benefits of support groups and cardiac rehabilitation with my patients.” Dr. Dunham also stresses the importance of truly listening to women when they describe their symptoms. “Women are not the face of heart disease, yet heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States—responsible for about one in every five female deaths. Cardiac symptoms in women can be very different than those experienced by men and it's essential that physicians don’t discount women’s symptoms as harmless and send them home.”
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Updated February 25, 2020