You may be experiencing the early warning signs of blocked arteries (atherosclerosis) but you may not be associating this pain and discomfort with heart problems.
Strange though it may sound, the traditional image of a man holding his chest whilst gasping for breath is not the most common pain experience or symptom of a blocked artery sufferer, although it may be that very one that ultimately brings them into the accident and emergency department.
It is very likely that the patient has been experiencing pain and discomfort for some time but has put this down to a myriad of other possible – and less serious – illnesses.
Take the example of a husband. He had angioplasty and a stent procedure some ten years earlier and therefore convinced everyone that his chest pain was not a heart problem or angina. He claimed that he of all people would recognize heart pain.
He experienced something that he was convinced was more like indigestion for some eighteen months before he finally had a massive heart attack episode which was followed up with a heart bypass operation.
Typically he would be enjoying a rich meal, for example a Chinese Meal (one of his favorites) but no sooner would he have put his knife and fork down when he would be clutching directly below his chest with one arm and wincing with the pain, which would go away after a few minutes. This would be attributed to indigestion, because of the rich food followed by pain.
Another common occurrence would be at the end of the evening just before bed when it was his self imposed job to finally load and switch on the dishwasher, which involves bending to close the door of the dishwasher, he would immediately get a pain in the chest again. This would be put down to a hiatal hernia because it came on after bending.
The pain – below the center of his sternum – would also be apparent if he undertook anything that involved stooping or bending. So plenty of antacid remedies were taken and they would, strangely, ease the pain which often would disappear within a few minutes of taking this medication.
The pain would however, very often re occur during the night and he found it easier and more comfortable to sleep propped up by some pillows but would frequently complain in the morning of pain below the sternum during the night. He would frequently take antacid medication on several occasions throughout the night.
We got to the stage where we could no longer go for walks for the simple reason that after only a few steps, the pain would come on which would be immobilizing for him for several moments.
Now I can guess what you are thinking. If he experienced all these symptoms for so long why didn’t you get him looked at?
Well the answer is, he did. The accident and emergency department performed an ECG on a few occasions when he had rushed there after very severe pain, but unfortunately the ECG results did not indicate a heart attack and he was advised to “take things easy” and return if the pain re-occurred. They took a blood test on one other occasion and came back with the diagnosis of “irritable-bowl syndrome” which added to his reasoning and is one of the reasons why he always put his pains down to digestive problems, and is why he was sure it was not a heart related problem.
On the final occurrence of this type of chest pain, the pain just wouldn’t go away as it had in the past. All the antacids wouldn’t shift it and he spent most of the day clutching his stomach.
He eventually gave in when a second a violent pain started to develop in his right shoulder and he called the ambulance at 10 pm. Prior to this he had insisted that it was another bout of indigestion and flatly refused to even consider attending the hospital.
By 5 am the next day he had been transferred from our local hospital to the main hospital and was in intensive care awaiting heart bypass surgery. He suffered several very unpleasant heart attack episodes whilst in hospital awaiting surgery.
So please heed this warning.
If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, do not delay! Get to the hospital right away.
If the symptoms are not caused by a problem with your heart then this is great news and you can relax and get the appropriate treatment, but if it is your heart, and you won’t be reading this article unless you have a suspicion that it may be, then you will be in the right place to get treatment sooner rather than later!
He is now fully recovered and he is as fit as a fiddle. He can once again walk without pain in his chest and – deep joy – he can enjoy his favorite Chinese food without any suffering any pain afterwards!