A 43-year-old woman presents to the emergency department with substernal chest pressure of moderate intensity that started approximately 6 hours ago. The pressure radiates to both arms and is accompanied by nausea. She says she has had no emesis, diaphoresis, fevers, chills, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, melena, dysuria, weight loss, headaches, change in vision, seizures, joint pain, or skin rashes. She also says she has had no prior similar episodes and has no history of myocardial infarction (MI) or stroke.
The patient has a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease and uterine fibroids. She has had three pregnancies, one ending in spontaneous abortion at 12 weeks and two ending with healthy children delivered by cesarean section. She does not take any daily medications. She has smoked one pack per day over the last 25 years. She denies using alcohol or illicit drugs.
The patient’s mother had idiopathic deep vein thrombosis (DVT) at age 46, her father had an MI at age 65, and her sister had an MI at age 43.
On examination, she is in mild distress but is alert and oriented. Her temperature is 99.0°F (37.2°C), blood pressure 98/66 mm Hg, heart rate 65 beats per minute, respiratory rate 18 breaths per minute, and oxygen saturation 99% on room air. Her body mass index is 19.5 (normal range 18.5–24.9). Her skin appears normal. Her head and neck show no obvious abnormalities, lymphadenopathy, thyromegaly, or bruits. Her heart, lungs, and abdomen are normal, as are her strength, sensation, reflexes, and gait.
Laboratory values at the time of admission:
- White blood cell count 12.58 × 109/L (reference range 4.0–11.0)
- Hemoglobin 15.4 g/dL (12.0–16.0)
- Platelet count 122 × 109/L (150–400)
- International normalized ratio (INR) 1.1 (0.9–1.1)
- Activated partial thromboplastin time 29.1 seconds (24.6–34).
A heart attack, and then a stroke
An initial electrocardiogram shows normal sinus rhythm, left anterior hemiblock, and nonspecific T-wave abnormalities. Cardiac enzymes are measured at intervals: her troponin T level is less than 0.01 ng/mL at the time of admission but rises to 0.75 ng/mL 3 hours later (normal range 0.0–0.1 ng/mL). Similarly, her creatine kinase-MB level is 3.3 ng/mL at admission but rises to 71.9 ng/mL 3 hours later (normal range 0.0–8.0 ng/mL).
The patient is diagnosed with non-ST-elevation MI. An intravenous heparin drip is started, and she is sent for urgent cardiac catheterization, which shows a total occlusion in a lateral obtuse marginal branch of the left circumflex artery due to a thrombus in the vessel. Otherwise, her coronary arteries are angiographically free of disease. The heparin drip is continued, and treatment is started with abciximab (ReoPro) and tissue plasminogen activator (Alteplase). She is sent to the cardiac intensive care unit for recovery, where she is placed on continuous cardiac monitoring, with no evidence of arrhythmia.
One day later, the left side of her face is drooping, her left arm is weak, and her speech is slurred. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain shows an acute ischemic infarct in the right temporoparietal area and multiple areas of subacute to chronic ischemia. Magnetic resonance angiography of the brain indicates patent vessels. Both transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography are performed and indicate normal left ventricular size, ejection fraction of 55%, valves without thrombus or vegetations, aorta with mild atheroma, and no patent foramen ovale by Doppler flow or agitated saline contrast study. Carotid artery Doppler ultrasonography shows 40% to 59% stenosis bilaterally.