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Pain at the Game: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

      Presentation

      Some parents become rather impassioned at their children's sporting events, but for one patient, game day was extraordinarily traumatic. Shortly after arguing with another parent at her daughter's soccer match, a 34-year-old Caucasian woman began experiencing crushing and unrelenting substernal chest pressure. Two hours after the discomfort began, she sought medical attention at the emergency department. On presentation, she was dizzy and nauseous but denied diaphoresis, dyspnea, positional aggravation or alleviation of her pain, orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, or edema.
      The patient had no history of smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, or illicit drug use. Her family medical history was notable for hypertension and cerebrovascular disease. A review of systems was pertinent for active menstruation at the time of presentation.

      Assessment

      On examination, the patient was anxious but in no acute distress. She was afebrile, her heart rate was 85 beats per minute, her blood pressure was 135/58 mmHg, her respiratory rate was 21 breaths per minute, and her oxygen saturation was 98% on room air. She had no jugular venous distension, and her lungs were clear to auscultation bilaterally. Her cardiac rhythm was regular without murmurs, clicks, or gallops, and the point of maximal impulse was nondisplaced. She had no lower extremity edema.
      An electrocardiogram (ECG) demonstrated normal sinus rhythm, a normal QRS axis, and anterior upsloping ST segment elevations (Figure 1A), which resolved with sublingual nitroglycerin (Figure 1B). The patient had not had a prior ECG. A chest film showed a normal cardiac silhouette with clear lung fields and no other acute pathologic process. Laboratory data were notable for the following: white blood cell count, 11.5 x 103 cells/uL; hemoglobin, 10.4 g/dL; glucose, 134 mg/dL; troponin I, 0.13 ng/mL (reference range, 0-0.04 ng/mL); and D-dimer, 152 ng/mL (reference range, 0-230 ng/mL).
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1(A) an electrocardiogram (ECG) was obtained on presentation during active chest pain. (B) Another was ordered after administration of sublingual nitroglycerin, while the patient was free of discomfort. (C) Three hours after presentation, a third ECG was performed for reevaluation. The patient had no chest pain at this point.
      After the first evaluation, it was believed that the patient's symptoms were unlikely to have been caused by coronary plaque disruption, given her sex and age. On reevaluation 3 hours after presentation, the patient continued to complain of nausea but was free of chest pain. However, her troponin I value had risen to 50 ng/mL, and a repeat ECG revealed deep T-wave inversions in the anterolateral leads (Figure 1C). A cardiology consultation was obtained.
      Based on the patient's history, presentation, ECG changes, and the trajectory of cardiac biomarkers, she underwent invasive coronary angiography. Her coronary angiogram showed no significant epicardial atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, congenital coronary anomalies, or any evidence of vasospasm. However, the distal left anterior descending artery was notable for an abrupt decrement in luminal diameter and a ribbon-like appearance suggestive of coronary artery dissection (Figure 2).
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Figure 2Coronary angiography of the left anterior descending artery was carried out. (A) This is the right-anterior-oblique cranial projection. (B) The left-anterior-oblique cranial projection is shown. Note that the left anterior descending coronary artery courses down the interventricular septum where there is an abrupt decrement in luminal diameter (arrows) with a ribbon-like appearance of the artery distally. The remainder of the epicardial coronary artery system has no significant angiographic evidence of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.

      Diagnosis

      Some 0.2%-1.1% of patients undergoing angiography for acute coronary syndrome are found to have spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      An estimated 800 new cases of spontaneous coronary artery dissection occur in the United States each year.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      This atraumatic noniatrogenic separation of coronary artery layers by hemorrhage leads to formation of an intramural hematoma.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      The first of 2 proposed mechanisms involves initiation of dissection and hemorrhage by an intimal tear and creation of a false lumen; much like classic aortic dissection. The second is rupture of the vasa vasorum, leading to intramural hemorrhage and medial dissection without intimal tearing.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      Subsequent formation of an intramural hematoma could compress the true lumen, causing downstream myocardial ischemia and/or infarction.
      Clinical presentation depends on the extent and severity of the dissection and the coronary artery involved. Presenting symptoms range from chest pain alone to frank acute coronary syndrome, ventricular fibrillation, and/or sudden death.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      Multiple series of patients with spontaneous coronary artery dissection illustrate its strong predilection for otherwise healthy young women.
      • Vanzetto G.
      • Berger-Coz E.
      • Barone-Rochette G.
      • et al.
      Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
      • Fontanelli A.
      • Olivari Z.
      • La Vecchia L.
      • et al.
      DISCOVERY investigators
      Spontaneous dissections of coronary arteries and acute coronary syndromes: rationale and design of the DISCOVERY, a multicenter prospective registry with a case-control group.
      • Alfonso F.
      • Paulo M.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
      Of those who suffer spontaneous coronary artery dissection, 70-82% are women, and the mean age of all patients, male and female, is 40-43 years.
      • Vanzetto G.
      • Berger-Coz E.
      • Barone-Rochette G.
      • et al.
      Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
      • Fontanelli A.
      • Olivari Z.
      • La Vecchia L.
      • et al.
      DISCOVERY investigators
      Spontaneous dissections of coronary arteries and acute coronary syndromes: rationale and design of the DISCOVERY, a multicenter prospective registry with a case-control group.
      Among women younger than 50 years who present with acute coronary syndrome, the prevalence of spontaneous coronary artery dissection is 9%.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      Connective tissue disorders, coronary artery spasm, strenuous exercise, emotional stress, peripartum/postpartum status, use of oral contraceptive pills, and menstruation have all been associated with spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      • Saw J.
      • Poulter R.
      • Fung A.
      • Wood D.
      • Hamburger J.
      • Buller C.E.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection in patients with fibromuscular dysplasia: a case series.
      Recently, fibromuscular dysplasia has also been identified as an independent predictor, implying that underlying systemic vascular abnormalities predispose coronary arteries to dissection, especially in conjunction with precipitating factors such as emotional stress.
      • Saw J.
      • Poulter R.
      • Fung A.
      • Wood D.
      • Hamburger J.
      • Buller C.E.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection in patients with fibromuscular dysplasia: a case series.
      Our patient's young age, noncontributory past medical history, and the temporal relationship of chest pain to emotional distress may suggest an initial noncoronary chest pain syndrome. However, dynamic ECG changes and positive troponin levels in such patients should prompt clinicians to investigate nonatherosclerotic causes of coronary ischemia, such as coronary dissection, embolism, or vasospasm. Coronary angiography confirmed that our patient had spontaneous coronary artery dissection of the left anterior descending artery. In many other situations, spontaneous coronary artery dissection is poorly characterized by angiography, as the narrowing caused by the intramural hematoma can be misinterpreted as atherosclerotic disease.
      • Paulo M.
      • Sandoval J.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Combined Use of OCT and IVUS in spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      However, intracoronary imaging, such as intravascular ultrasound and optical coherence tomography, are powerful tools in making a definitive diagnosis (Figure 3).
      • Paulo M.
      • Sandoval J.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Combined Use of OCT and IVUS in spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      Figure thumbnail gr3
      Figure 3Combined intravascular imaging was performed in a patient with suspected spontaneous coronary artery dissection. (A) An angiographic image of a long lesion in the left anterior descending coronary artery suggests spontaneous coronary artery dissection. (B) The proximal aspect of the diseased segment shows an intimomedial membrane and a double lumen appearance by optical coherence tomography (OCT). (B’) The same is evident on intravascular ultrasound (IVUS). At this site, the complete vessel is visualized by both techniques, although thrombus in the false lumen is more clearly depicted by IVUS. (C) More distally, OCT detects a severely narrowed lumen and a side branch exit from the true lumen (4 o'clock position). The thickness of the intimomedial membrane is well visualized (5 to 11 o'clock position), but severe attenuation prevents visualization of dorsal structures. (C’) IVUS displays the false lumen content better and detects the side branch take-off from the true lumen (3 o'clock position). *Denotes wire artifact.
      Reproduced, with permission, from Paulo et al 2013.
      • Paulo M.
      • Sandoval J.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Combined Use of OCT and IVUS in spontaneous coronary artery dissection.

      Management

      The optimal treatment strategy for spontaneous coronary artery dissection is not well defined and hinges on the clinical presentation, extent of dissection, and amount of myocardium at risk.
      • Tweet M.S.
      • Hayes S.N.
      • Pitta S.R.
      • et al.
      Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
      • Vanzetto G.
      • Berger-Coz E.
      • Barone-Rochette G.
      • et al.
      Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
      Medical therapy alone can be implemented successfully in stable patients with middle or distal local dissection if the lumen diameter is not limited by more than 50% and coronary blood flow is adequate.
      • Vanzetto G.
      • Berger-Coz E.
      • Barone-Rochette G.
      • et al.
      Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
      Treatment is similar to that of acute coronary syndrome and includes the use of antithrombotics, such as aspirin, thienopyridines (eg, clopidogrel), or heparin with a bridge to warfarin.
      • Alfonso F.
      • Paulo M.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
      Anti-ischemic (eg, beta-blockers) and anti-spasm therapy (eg, nitrates) are also frequently administered.
      • Alfonso F.
      • Paulo M.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
      Several series confirm that follow-up angiography demonstrates resolution of dissection after implementation of medical therapy.
      • Alfonso F.
      • Paulo M.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
      Thrombolytic drugs can cause complications in patients with spontaneous coronary artery dissection; 1 series notes that this treatment route resulted in clinical deterioration severe enough to necessitate rescue percutaneous or surgical revascularization in 60% of patients.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      Rather, primary revascularization should be considered for patients with ongoing chest pain, ischemia, ST elevation, or hemodynamic instability.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      While percutaneous intervention is indicated in limited circumstances, particularly if a single vessel is involved, surgery is the revascularization method of choice when dissection is extensive; for example, when the left main artery, proximal left anterior descending artery, multiple vessels, or complex vessels are involved.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      The technical success rate of percutaneous revascularization is only 65% in some series, with failures occurring because guide wires were passed into the false lumen, areas of dissection or hematoma were extended, or the intramural hematoma was displaced.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      Retrospective studies show acceptable short- and long-term survival rates in patients who recovered from the initial event after conservative management. The hospital mortality rate in these studies was reported to be 0-4%, and 1-year and 10- year mortality rates were 1.1% and 7.7%, respectively.
      • Shamloo B.K.
      • Chintala R.S.
      • Nasur A.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
      • Vanzetto G.
      • Berger-Coz E.
      • Barone-Rochette G.
      • et al.
      Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
      • Fontanelli A.
      • Olivari Z.
      • La Vecchia L.
      • et al.
      DISCOVERY investigators
      Spontaneous dissections of coronary arteries and acute coronary syndromes: rationale and design of the DISCOVERY, a multicenter prospective registry with a case-control group.
      • Alfonso F.
      • Paulo M.
      • Lennie V.
      • et al.
      Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
      For our patient, the risks of percutaneous intervention outweighed potential benefit given the distal nature of the dissection, the relatively small area of myocardial involvement, and the hemodynamic stability of the patient. She was started on aspirin and warfarin and bridged with heparin until a therapeutic international normalized ratio was achieved. Long-term anticoagulation was planned. At discharge, she was asymptomatic, and her ECG changes had resolved. Although medical management provides acceptable in-hospital, short-term, and long-term outcomes, continued close follow-up and patient education are also essential. Our patient has been event-free and continues to do well 3 years after her original presentation.
      In summary, spontaneous coronary artery dissection is an important entity to consider when a young female patient with few cardiac risk factors presents with chest pain. Treatment can consist of conservative medical management or invasive—percutaneous or surgical—revascularization. Antithrombotic and antiplatelet therapy is often warranted, but the best overall duration of administration is unclear.

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        Clinical features, management, and prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
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        Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: aggressive vs. conservative therapy.
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        Prevalence, therapeutic management and medium-term prognosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection: results from a database of 11,605 patients.
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        • Olivari Z.
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        Spontaneous dissections of coronary arteries and acute coronary syndromes: rationale and design of the DISCOVERY, a multicenter prospective registry with a case-control group.
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        Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: long-term follow-up of a large series of patients prospectively managed with a “conservative” therapeutic strategy.
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        • Poulter R.
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        • Wood D.
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        • et al.
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