“Brave men” and “emotional women”: gender bias and pain

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters     July 7 , 2019

My little granddaughter Everly Rose is mesmerized by her “owies”. Every bruise, scrape, or even the tiniest scratch inflicted while playing with her kitten, Homie, requires a healing kiss and an equally healing Band-Aid, which can then be proudly pointed out to every stranger we pass on the street. One morning, after I’d had a hard fall while out with my walking group, she carefully examined the dark scab and asked me, very seriously, “Did you cry?” I told her that I’d thought about crying at the time, but then I patted myself all over, realized I wasn’t badly hurt, and so I decided not to cry.

She thought about this explanation for a long while, as if it had never occurred to her that not crying was even an option. Is that because Rosie is a little girl – and not a boy?  A Swedish study helps to answer that question.(1)    .   Continue reading ““Brave men” and “emotional women”: gender bias and pain”

When you ignore pain because you’re used to it…

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters    June 23, 2019

I can’t be completely sure, of course, but I’m betting my next squirt of nitro spray that I am a world-class stoic when it comes to putting up with pain. I survived a ruptured appendix and a near-fatal case of peritonitis that kept me hospitalized for a month as a teenager. I popped out two babies the old-fashioned, drug-free way. I suffered a broken bone in a bicycle accident while commuting downtown, but still somehow climbed back on that bike in order to show up on time for the meeting I was heading to. 

And I put up with two long weeks of increasingly unbearable symptoms (including being unable to walk more than five steps at a time) after being initially misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack with acid reflux.

So I sat up and paid attention when I happened upon the Despite Pain blog post called The Problem with Being Used to Pain or Illness.  
Continue reading “When you ignore pain because you’re used to it…”

Exhaustion: the ‘leaky emotion’ of chronic illness

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!
Continue reading “Exhaustion: the ‘leaky emotion’ of chronic illness”

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”

My love-hate relationship with my little black box

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Every morning, I clip it onto my belt, or tuck it into a hip pocket.  I very carefully attach its sticky little electrode pads onto the skin just over my heart, tucking their long black wires under my clothing. Lately, I also have to hold the electrodes in place on my skin with surgical tape because they’re starting to lose their stickiness after so much daily wear. I turn on the black box at my waist, and adjust its two knobs to the correct power levels. I feel a prickly little buzz pulsating across my chest.

It’s called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), and it involves electrical impulses called neuromodulation to treat the chest pain (angina) of Inoperable Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD).

My portable TENS unit is about the size of a small cell phone. You may know the much larger version of this machine if you’ve ever had physiotherapy treatments following a muscle injury.  The only wounded muscles it’s working on for me now, however, are those in my heart. Emerging cardiac research is showing that, just as the TENS machine works on improving blood flow, reducing inflammation and speeding up healing for an injured shoulder or knee, it may bring the same benefits to heart patients with MVD like mine.

But I do have a love-hate relationship with my little black box.  Continue reading “My love-hate relationship with my little black box”

The chest pain of angina comes in four flavours

woman angina

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

There are four main types of angina pectoris women should know about, no matter how you pronounce it: ‘anj-EYE-nuh’ in Canada or Australia, or AN-gin-uh’ in the U.S.  

The chest pain called angina is not the same as a heart attack – but it can feel like one and can in fact lead to one. Here are the four types of angina you need to know:

  • Stable angina: Mayo Clinic cardiologists define this as any pain/discomfort between neck and navel that comes on with exertion and is relieved by rest. When you climb stairs, exercise or walk, your heart muscle demands more blood, but it’s harder for the muscle to get enough blood when your coronary arteries have become narrowed. Stable angina can also be triggered by emotional stress, cold temperatures, heavy meals, smoking or other activities that can narrow arteries. learn more about the other three types of angina