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”

When chest pain is “just” costochondritis

Costochondritis-7by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Many female heart patients become familiar with the word “costochondritis” only while being misdiagnosed with the condition during an actual cardiac event, as in:

  • “My MD said it was just costochondritis and a  pinched nerve, because my ribs were sore.” (LH, age 51, New York: heart attack)
  • “At first, we looked at musculoskeletal causes. It had to be costochondritis; my chest wall seemed tender to touch, so I even had steroid injections in my chest wall.” (ZM, age 59, Arizona: heart attack, 12 stents, triple bypass surgery)
  • “Pains in chest radiating down arm and up to my chin. My GP reluctantly sent me to a cardiologist who was dismissive, said that my age was a big factor and that it was 99% likely to be just costochondritis as I also have fibromyalgia” (BT, age 42, U.K: heart attack, 90% blocked LAD coronary artery, two stents)  

Continue reading “When chest pain is “just” costochondritis”

Heart disease within “the comfort of denial”

Allie's puppy, Sam, at the lake

Like me, Allie is a heart attack survivor. In 2009, following  weeks of “normal” cardiac tests and some creative medical misdiagnoses (maybe it’s gall bladder? or dehydration?), the 52-year old ultimately  underwent triple bypass surgery. She was a thin and seemingly healthy mother of four, but she also had a significant family history of heart disease (her Dad had died of a heart attack at age 34, and her brother had survived heart valve replacement surgery 15 years earlier).  Since her heart attack, Allie’s now a blogger, too – usually describing her new plant-based  adventures in the kitchen.

I enjoyed reading one of her recent posts so much that I asked her if I could tell you about it here, too. This one’s not about heart-smart cooking, but about something cardiologists virtually never warn their patients about.  Continue reading “Heart disease within “the comfort of denial””

What is causing my chest pain?


by Carolyn Thomas  ♥   @HeartSisters

First of all, I think even using the word “pain” to describe a common heart attack symptom may be misleading for many women.

It’s important to remember that some women experience NO chest symptoms at all during a heart attack.(1)  And since my own heart attack, I have met countless heart attack survivors who don’t use the word “pain” to describe their chest symptoms. Cardiac researcher Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas reminds us that words matter when women describe their chest symptoms, and can actually influence how they will be treated in the Emergency Department – or not.  Continue reading “What is causing my chest pain?”

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”