‘Lived in fear of heart attack’: Abu Dhabi woman successfully treated for spasms undetected for long

The 61-year-old's symptoms were concerning, especially considering her highly active lifestyle, said doctors


Ashwani Kumar

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Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD)
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD)

Published: Mon 6 May 2024, 1:49 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 May 2024, 4:38 PM

What started as seemingly minor symptoms soon escalated into debilitating chest pain that remained undiagnosed for long and severely impacted Mari Kirsten’s daily life.

The 61-year-old endured the prolonged pain for months before it was found to be a serious cardiac disorder that made her vulnerable to a heart attack.

“Spasms changed my life completely. I was in constant pain, unable to walk or sleep, and living in fear of a heart attack. One day, I was walking around the mall and suddenly I felt severe chest pain and thought it was heartburn. The pain subsided but eventually kept recurring,” the Abu Dhabi resident, who is from South Africa, told Khaleej Times.

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So when routine cardiac tests failed to identify the cause behind her chest pain, Kirsten was referred to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi for more advanced testing - she underwent an invasive microvascular disease and spasm assessment to evaluate her condition.

Mari Kirsten
Mari Kirsten

Dr Ashraf M. Al Azzoni, staff physician, cardiovascular medicine, Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute (HVTI), who led the case, said: “Kirsten’s symptoms were concerning, especially considering her highly active lifestyle. Our comprehensive assessment revealed severe spasm and epicardial coronary arteries, confirming the diagnosis and guiding tailored treatment.”

Kirsten was successfully treated through Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s groundbreaking invasive microvascular dysfunction and coronary spasm programme.

Undetected cardiac issues

The hospital, part of the M42 group, has completed more than a year of its invasive microvascular dysfunction and coronary spasm programme. The hospital’s HVTI facility has so far diagnosed and treated about 100 patients for microvascular dysfunction and coronary spasm, in an indication of the prevalence of these often-undetected cardiac issues.

The programme provides complex diagnosis and treatment for microvascular angina and coronary spasm. The diagnostic technique utilises wire technology to assess small arteries and involves injecting specialised medication into the heart’s arteries to detect such conditions.

Dr Azzoni emphasised that diagnosis is the most challenging aspect of this condition.

“Around 20-25 per cent of people suffer from this condition in other parts of the world, especially in Asia, where testing is accessible. We have a successful diagnosis programme at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Once we made the diagnosis, we initiated a targeted medication regimen designed to alleviate Kirsten’s symptoms. Within days, she experienced significant relief and regained her ability to engage in physical activities.”

Dr Ashraf M. Al Azzoni
Dr Ashraf M. Al Azzoni
Dr Ronney Shantou
Dr Ronney Shantou

Dr Ronney Shantouf, staff physician, cardiovascular medicine, HVTI, said: “Many patients with these conditions suffer from recurrent chest pain, often incorrectly attributed to stress or anxiety. Our goal through this programme is to increase awareness and fill a critical gap in cardiac care by providing accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment for these often-overlooked conditions to improve their quality of life.”

Kirsten’s remarkable turnaround underscored the importance of early diagnosis and specialised care in managing complex cardiac conditions.

“The Spasm Support Group led by the hospital has provided invaluable assistance, making things much more manageable than I ever imagined. I am grateful to the entire team for their exceptional expertise and support,” Kirsten said.


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