“It’s 2 a.m. and I think I’m having a heart attack”

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

“It’s 2 a.m. and I think I might be having a heart attack. Right now I have a tight chest and pain in my left arm and in my elbow that comes and goes; early this week, I was having pain in my left and right legs. What should I do?”

“I’m sitting in bed and have been up for hours. For four days, I have been having upper right back pain up to the neck. I cannot turn my head left. Tonight I have pain in my elbow and a tingling all the way down my right arm and to my fingers. I’m only 29 and a healthy weight. I need some answers. Do I need to go to the ER?”

“I have most of these symptoms.  My mom thinks I’m fine. I really think she doesn’t understand. I can be heading to a heart attack any day soon. And I’m only 14, almost 15 in a couple of days.”

These represent just a tiny sampling of the symptom questions that my blog readers often send me. My response to each of these is virtually always some variation of this statement:   Continue reading ““It’s 2 a.m. and I think I’m having a heart attack””

Are you a ‘health seeker’ or a ‘disease seeker’?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I recently wrote about a woman who has few if any cardiac symptoms, no definitive test results, and very little if any reason to believe she might have a heart condition. Yet she is so utterly convinced of her extreme risk for having a heart attack that she actually describes feeling like a “ticking time bomb”.

Her conviction may have something to do with the increasing media coverage of atypical signs of heart disease in women (= a good thing).  Or it may have something to do with the possibility that she is “catastrophizing” by looking to snag an attention-getting heart disease diagnosis (= a bad thing).

I’ve recently subscribed to medical historian Dr. Jan Henderson‘s fascinating blog called The Health Culture, and that’s where I was once again reminded of a book that may actually help to inform this woman’s case. Continue reading “Are you a ‘health seeker’ or a ‘disease seeker’?”

“Catastrophizing” – why we feel sicker than we actually are

by Carolyn Thomas

It’s distressingly common in cardiac circles to run into people who don’t have heart disease, but who are very certain that they do. When I first heard some of their stories, I suspected that these people are being misdiagnosed, but the reality may instead be that there’s no heart disease here at all.

This scenario came up recently with a woman with few if any cardiac symptoms, no definitive test results, and very little reason for believing she might have a heart condition. Yet she was so utterly convinced a heart attack was imminent that she described feeling like a “ticking time bomb”. A fellow heart attack survivor, far braver than I, suggested to this woman that she might be experiencing a phenomenon called catastrophizing.   Continue reading ““Catastrophizing” – why we feel sicker than we actually are”