Brain freeze, heart disease and pain self-management

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Part 2 of a 3-part series about pain

Consider the familiar pain we call brain freeze.

That’s the universal experience of feeling a sharp pain in the forehead right between your eyes after you eat or drink something that’s icy cold. But when you feel this pain, it simply means that your hypersensitive nervous system is making a mistake.
Continue reading “Brain freeze, heart disease and pain self-management”

The freakish nature of cardiac pain

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Part 1 of a 3-part series about pain

I was thinking about the freakish nature of pain the other day. I think about pain quite a bit, actually, given the frequency with which I now experience the ongoing symptoms of Coronary Microvascular Disease. But in 2008, when the first alarming warning signs of a heart attack struck out of the blue while I was out for a brisk pre-breakfast walk, the reality was not at all what I would have ever imagined a heart attack to feel like. And because I was clueless, I believed the Emergency Department physician who misdiagnosed me with acid reflux and sent me home that same morning.  Continue reading “The freakish nature of cardiac pain”

EECP therapy – and wearing fun socks

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Happy Feet!“Do small things with great socks!”

So says Sharon Durbin, a 62-year old recently retired RN and heart patient from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who has been undergoing a unique, non-invasive, non-drug and effective way to manage the debilitating symptoms of angina caused by coronary microvascular disease and cyclic spasmsThis photo shows Sharon’s view of her feet during the cardiac treatment known as Enhanced External Counterpulsation, or EECP.*  Sharon’s EECP sessions are held daily, and consist of a series of 35 to 50 one-hour appointments.  As Sharon explained recently in her This Old Heart blog article:    Continue reading “EECP therapy – and wearing fun socks”

Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack

Did you know that even when experiencing textbook heart attack symptoms (like my own chest and left arm pain), people wait an average of four hours before seeking medical help?  The tragic irony is that heart patients who do best are those who can be treated within the first hour of those initial acute symptoms.

Heart attacks are dangerous and scary – so why do so many of us suffer silently for hours (and in many cases, far longer?)  This treatment-seeking delay behaviour concerns many researchers, including Yale University’s Dr. Angelo Alonzo. He told me:

“Ask people what they would do if they had a heart attack and, of course, they’d all  insist they would seek care immediately.  Sounds easy!  But in reality, few people actually do drop everything to get help.”    Continue reading “Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack”

How does it really feel to have a heart attack? Women survivors answer that question

by Carolyn Thomas   ♥   @HeartSisters

Having a heart attack felt nothing like I thought it would feel.   For one thing, unlike sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating and you stop breathing, during my heart attack (myocardial infarction), my heart continued beating, and I was walking, talking and conscious throughout despite horrific symptoms – so how could I possibly be having a heart attack?

Like most women, I’d never really thought about my heart – except maybe when running up that killer Quadra Street hill with my running group. Yet heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer each year (in fact, it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined).

Women need to know all the potential symptoms of a heart attack – both typical and atypical. And by the way, I’ve stopped using the word “atypical to describe any non-chest pain symptom that women experience during a heart attack, because as paramedic and documentary filmmaker (“A Typical Heart“) Cristina D’Alessandro likes to say: 

“Why are our cardiac symptoms called ‘atypical’ when women are more than half the population?”

I asked some female survivors to share their very first symptoms. Their heart attack stories may surprise you:

Read their stories

Women’s heart pain is both physical and emotional

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

woman abstract6Before a heart attack actually occurs, people suffering from the chest pain of angina can feel emotionally traumatized.  Angina may be a physical cardiovascular problem, but it can also take a remarkable emotional toll in the form of anxiety or depression. 

Imagine living in constant dread of the next painful attack, or feeling distressed because angina has forced you to give up activities you enjoy. Over time, anxiety and depression may become a part of your ongoing cardiac symptoms along with the alarming chest pain that can come with an angina attack.  This can lead to a vicious cycle: depression, anxiety, and stress may actually trigger angina pain by prompting the release of hormones that make the heart work harder.
Continue reading “Women’s heart pain is both physical and emotional”