I was "The Patient" exhibit at a cardiology symposium this weekend, sponsored by SoutheastHealth. Believe me, I know what a gift my heartbeat is. Listening to the various speakers, I learned that I should always have been considered at HIGH risk for heart disease. Are you? You are, if genetics and one other risk factor affect you. I honestly did not know that I was HIGH risk. Check with your doctor today.
The most common risk factors are family history, diabetes (type 1 or 2, and this is a huge risk factor), high blood pressure, being overweight (don't kid yourself on this one), bad lipid profile (I was not in this group at all, as my blood profile has always been good to excellent), irregular heart rhythm, age, smoking (right up there with diabetes), sedentary lifestyle. If you have two or more of the risk factors, think "heart" when you have undiagnosed problems. My condition took six or seven years to diagnose, and it is no exaggeration to say that I nearly died. Even the attendees at the symposium agreed on that point.
It was NOT the numerous heart tests over the last several years that saved my life. I had every possible test, some more than once, and "passed" them all. It was my persistence in continuing to seek help. I almost waited too long that last night, though. For the record (again), my only symptom for years was a gripping, choking sensation in my throat--no pain or pressure in my chest. In the last few days prior to surgery, I also developed a searing pain on the entire left side of my face, and I was slightly nauseous (just enough that I didn't want to eat). I had NO OTHER symptoms, other than fatigue and feeling out of breath. My lipid profile was very good. My blood pressure and blood sugar were both well-controlled. I have never smoked. I was not what most would call really fat, though I weighed too much.
Yet, I nearly died due to 100, 90, 80, and TWO 60 percent blockages. I thought that I had four blockages, but due to the research done for my introduction at the symposium, I learned that I had FIVE blockages (addressed by four bypasses plus a moved collateral). FIVE serious blockages and four bypasses!
One of the cardiologist speakers, after a brief review of my history, said that the DEFAULT assumption (when there is more than one risk factor involved) should have been to assume that my problem was cardiac related. I was sent back to my general practioner more than once, after passing numerous cardiac tests. The beat that was missed, however, was that I should have been sent BACK to the cardiologist after all of the other tests also failed to provide a diagnosis. Instead, I was told that I was having esophageal spasms, nothing serious because my esophagus and stomach showed no damage (of course, they also showed no evidence to support that diagnosis). So that diagnosis was a dead end, and could have been a death sentence.
Just in case you or someone you love is trusting the results of a Thallium stress test (or any stress test), let me add this important fact: The stress test gives false negatives up to 15 percent of the time. Among the patients missed are THE MOST SERIOUS CASES, "LIKE LIZ," as the cardiologist went on to say. The reason is that the stress test looks for variations. In cases of serious blockage all around the heart, those variations are not present, and the test fails to find the problem. The patient is sent back to the general practioner with a "pass" grade on the stress test. I know this is a frightening fact, but I want you to know, because you might be the one who has to advocate for yourself or someone you love.
So, as I celebrate a birthday tomorrow that almost was NOT, I urge YOU to count your risk factors. Please give your family the gift of YOU for another year! Don't be in denial all the way to an autopsy. If you think it's your heart, say that the moment you walk into the doctor's office or the ER. I think part of the reason I am still here is to spread the word!
Update: I'm fine now, but the cardiologist warned me that my symptoms might be different the next time--and they were. In the year following my heart surgery, I had several heart issues, including another heart attack. I still have never had chest pain or pressure. My primary symptoms now seem to be nauseau and slight sweating (dewy, not wet, just dewy). I also have had upper gastric pain above the belly button. Gas pain usually occurs lower in the abdomen, but please take any gastric pain seriously.
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