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Young woman having acute chest pain or possibly a heart attack.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection happens when a bruise or bleed occurs in the wall of a coronary artery, cutting off the blood supply to that part of the heart, and eventually causing a heart attack.
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Genetic Risks for SCAD Affecting Younger Women Revealed

First international genome-wide association meta-analysis identifies 16 genes that exacerbate SCAD risk

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
Published:May 31, 2023
|2 min read
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Research led by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Universite Paris Cite, and supported by worldwide partners in Canada, US, and Australia, has identified new genes that are associated with an increased risk of a type of heart attack primarily affecting young to middle-aged women. The results were recently published in Nature Genetics.

SCAD, or Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, is when a bruise or bleed occurs in the wall of a coronary artery, cutting off the blood supply to part of the heart and leading to a heart attack. Unlike other types of heart attack, SCAD is most common in women aged 60 and younger and is a leading cause of heart attacks around the time of pregnancy. Furthermore, people who have had a SCAD tend to be generally healthy and SCAD can sometimes occur more than once.

To date, little is known about why a SCAD happens, often striking out of the blue, meaning that it is currently impossible to prevent.

The researchers present a genome-wide association meta-analysis involving a total of 1,917 cases of SCAD and 9,292 controls from European ancestry. They found 16 genes that increased the risk of SCAD. The identified genes are involved in processes that determine how the cells and connective tissue hold together and how the blood clots when bleeding occurs in tissues.

Interestingly, the researchers found that, while many genes linked to a higher risk of SCAD are shared with risk genes for conventional coronary artery disease (CAD), they have an opposite effect. This means patients with SCAD have some genetic protection from the risk of CAD, and is further evidence that these diseases are very different. 

The only shared risk factor appeared to be genetically elevated blood pressure.

David Adlam, BA BM BCh DPhil, associate professor of acute and interventional cardiology at the University of Leicester, and lead author of the study, said, “This research confirms that there are multiple genes involved in determining the risk of a person having a SCAD. These genes give us the first key insight into the underlying causes of this disease and provide new lines of enquiry, which we hope will guide future new treatment approaches.”

“We are grateful to Beat SCAD, the NIHR, and the British Heart Foundation for funding our work, to our international partners for their collaboration and for all the patients with SCAD and healthy volunteers who gave their time to advance this research,” said Adlam.

- This press release was originally published on the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust website