PALO ALTO, Calif. - Maria Moore loves her two young children with all her heart. But just weeks after her second delivery, her heart itself was in crisis.
"I felt like I just could not breathe, just something like just the heaviest thing ever crushing down on my chest," Maria remembers.
But Maria says she'd also been struggling with breastfeeding and other strains of childbirth. Her chest pains weren't diagnosed as a heart attack until another episode sent her to the emergency room..
"That's when they saw that OK, there's something else going on. It's not having to do with the milk and it has to do with your heart," she says.
Maria suffered from SCAD, or Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. Stanford interventional cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Tremmel says a wall in the coronary arteries tears, allowing blood to seep behind it. Eventually, the artery narrows.
"So the most common way this presents is as a heart attack. And again, it's a heart attack in that there's limited blood flow to the heart muscle," explains Tremmel.
SCAD has been considered relatively rare. But some experts believe many cases may be flying under the radar. That's in part because so many of the women are otherwise healthy, without the red flags of heart disease. Tremmel says that without obvious warning signs, it's critical for women to recognize potential symptoms of a heart attack beyond chest pain and shortness of breath.
"That's kind of the Hollywood heart attack, is that you have crushing chest pain radiating into the left arm, but everyone experiences somewhat differently. The pain can be anything from a pressure to a tightness to a burning. It can actually go into either arm," says Tremmel.
Statistically, slightly more than one in seven victims are recent mothers like Maria. But Tremmel says the exact causes of SCAD are still not completely understood and it can strike women in their 30's, 40's and 50's.
Maria had a stent placed in her artery to increase blood flow to her heart and says she's grateful to have the energy to spend with her kids.
"I like it when I'm feeling good, able to go like on a little hike and be able to keep up with them," says Maria, smiling.
Written and produced by Tim Didion