Tag Archives: coronary microvascular disease

No blockages: Living with non-obstructive heart disease

10 Jul

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Annette PompaAnnette Pompa of Pennsylvania lives with a cardiac diagnosis I’d never even heard of until I, too, was diagnosed with it several months after surviving a heart attack. It’s called Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD) or Small Vessel Disease. Unlike the classic Hollywood Heart Attack I’d initially experienced – which is typically caused by a significantly blocked major coronary artery – those of us diagnosed with MVD or coronary spasm disorders have few if any detectable blockages obstructing flow in the major blood vessels feeding the heart muscle. Yet we can experience the same distressing symptoms of a heart attack. Annette is a former art teacher who was barely 41 years old when MVD “came barging into my life”, as she explains. With her permission, I’m reprinting this transcript of an American Heart Association presentation that Annette gave recently about living with a non-obstructive heart condition.

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“This is my story. I represent an often misunderstood population living with a very different type of heart disease. Sadly, there are many more like me with MVD who are simply not being recognized – and indeed even dismissed. Symptoms often persist even without any visible blockage or reason for the angina, shortness of breath and fatigue which often accompany the condition. It is crazy, right? Here I was seemingly healthy – yet ended up battling heart disease.  Continue reading

What kind of heart attacks do young women have?

11 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

In your average garden-variety textbook heart attack, the cause is typically a sudden lack of oxygenated blood supply feeding the heart muscle, caused by a significant blockage in one of your coronary arteries. This blockage is what doctors call the culprit lesion.

But in a new study led by Yale University cardiologist Dr. Erica Spatz, researchers remind us that although this “culprit lesion” classification of heart attack applies to about 95% of men under age 55, only 82.5% of younger women experience this kind of heart attack.(1)    Continue reading

Exhaustion: the ‘leaky emotion’ of chronic illness

13 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Like most of you, I’ve experienced my fair share of garden variety pain over the years (caused, in my case, by things like a ruptured appendix, broken bones, knee surgery, or popping out two babies the old-fashioned way).

But none of those even came close to the chronic pain of refractory angina caused by my current diagnosis of inoperable coronary microvascular disease (MVD).  The chest pain caused by this disorder of the heart’s smallest blood vessels is episodic, intense, frightening and resembles what my “widow maker” heart attack symptoms felt like in 2008. Except this kind of pain happens almost every day.  It’s generally well-managed most days by meds (including my trusty nitro spray) and the non-drug, non-invasive TENS therapy recommended by my cardiologist as well as my pain specialist at our Regional Pain Clinic.  But sometimes, it’s alarming enough that I clutch my chest and wonder:

“Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911? Is today the day I’m having another heart attack?”

As you already know if you live with chronic pain like this, pain can literally change your personality. If it’s chest pain, it can also make you feel anxious and worried in a way that having pain from knee surgery never can. No wonder pain is so utterly exhausting!
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Do you want the truth, or do you want “Fine, thank you”?

17 Jul

Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

One beautiful afternoon last fall, I was walking my daughter home from her downtown office at the end of her workday. I love these mother-daughter walks of ours. We used to do them quite often (before Larissa recently delivered my darling grandbaby Everly Rose and started her extended maternity leave).

She’d phone me just as she was about to leave work, and we’d each start walking from opposite ends of Rockland Avenue (a long leafy ramble that starts downtown near her office and finishes up near our respective homes in Oak Bay Village). We’d meet up about halfway to walk the rest of the way home together. In this fashion, we each got an hour’s brisk walk into our day, but best of all, we got to chat all the way home.

But this one afternoon, while we were walking along Rockland, I felt the familiar yet ominous crush of chest pain as we walked, that frightening kind of angina that seems to get worse with every step.  After trying my best to ignore these symptoms at first, I finally had to stop her while she was in mid-sentence, fishing in my bag for nitro spray as I lurched towards a nearby stone bench to sit down. Continue reading

When you know more than your doctors about your diagnosis

31 May

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

One of my blog readers needlessly suffered debilitating cardiac symptoms for a number of years before she was finally correctly diagnosed (thanks to a second opinion) with coronary microvascular disease (MVD). During those years, she’d read everything she could get her hands on in a desperate effort to solve this mystery. But when she asked her own physician if MVD might be the culprit, he dismissed this diagnostic possibility, adding that he “didn’t believe” in coronary microvascular disease.

Didn’t believe in it?!

Please note, darling readers, that we’re not talking about the Tooth Fairy here.

We’re talking about a woman living with a cardiac condition that’s been well-studied (as in, peer-reviewed studies done by respected heart researchers and published in actual real-life medical journals).

Continue reading

“I rang the bell again. No one came.”

22 Feb

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

There are a number of big issues that leaped out at me about the hospital story you’re about to read.  Let’s see how many of them you observe, too – and how many could have been prevented.  This story is told by Ann, an Australian heart patient whose cardiac journey began in 2007 when she was 51 years old. But over the years since then, she has continued to suffer debilitating cardiac symptoms almost every day.

Her symptoms include not just chest pain, but pain throughout her upper back, jaw, shoulder, neck or arm, occasionally with severe shortness of breath. Despite taking a fistful of daily heart meds and wearing a nitro patch to help manage pain, Ann is rarely able to sleep through an entire night without being awoken by these symptoms. And here’s why . . .
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