Chef Rachel Willen has appeared on TV cooking shows and writes a food blog. She's also a heart attack survivor.
"It started to sort of quickly travel up my throat and into my jaw and radiating in my jaw very painfully," she said.
Willen was 56 with no history of heart disease. It turned out she had SCAD or Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. An artery near the heart tears, blocking blood flow in and around the heart, causing a heart attack. Researchers say the condition is not common, affecting mostly young, healthy women and is highly underdiagnosed.
"The average age is about 42 and it's disproportionately women, so about 70 percent of the cases or greater are women and of those women, 30 percent are in the few weeks to months after giving birth," said Dr. Sharonne Hayes of the Mayo Clinic.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have started the first major study of the condition. And while doctors don't know exactly what causes SCAD or how to treat it, they do know that up to 20 percent of patients who have had one SCAD episode will have another. The study came about after a group of SCAD survivors found each other in an online community and asked the Mayo Clinic for help.
"Hormones are a high area of interest and likely contribute to the cause of SCAD," Hayes said. "But we don't understand the mechanism."
Willen took part in the study, hoping it will lead to answers. Her brush with death has inspired her to live life to the fullest.
"These are my mottos for living now: 'live on the edge' and 'take a whisk,'" Willen said.
She continues to eat right, exercise and hope it doesn't happen again.
Researchers are also looking into whether genetics plays a role in SCAD and they also found a link between SCAD and fibromuscular dysplasia, another rare condition that causes a narrowing in some arteries.
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