When I started preparing for this article in August, I planned to write about how women and men often show different signs of chest pain or heart attacks.
All of that changed, though, when I suddenly began having chest pain at work. I had to take off my white coat and don a patient’s gown.
After the tests, it was determined I had a heart attack caused by a coronary spasm known as “Prinzmetal’s angina.”
You may ask what makes Prinzmetal’s angina so different from regular angina. Or for that matter, you may not understand the word “angina.” So here is a quick rundown of these medical terms.
Commonly, angina is chest pain. But some other abnormal symptoms can qualify as it, too. Those include arm pain, jaw pain, nausea, shortness of breath, sweaty feeling, neck ache, tooth ache and so on. Medical professionals call these abnormal symptoms “anginal equivalents,” which can be caused by coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease can refer to a host of problems, but it most commonly refers to a narrowing or blockage in an artery leading to decreased blood flow to your heart. If decreased blood flow goes on long enough, the heart is deprived of oxygen and can suffer damage. This damage is a “myocardial infarction,” also known as a heart attack.
What I had is called Prinzmetal’s angina, which is uncommon and accounts for 2 percent of all angina cases. In this type of angina, the artery spasms, closes off and restricts blood flow. So, just like regular angina, the heart is deprived of oxygen.
However, unlike angina caused from blockages in arteries, this angina usually happens while the person is at rest. The pain is often severe.
The good news is it usually responds to medication, but the medication needs to be given quickly because long spasms increase risk of damage or heart attack.
My angina attacked occurred when I was at work. I started experiencing chest pain, back pain and shortness of breath. The pain eventually radiated to my neck and down both arms, which is a classic symptom of heart attacks.
I was admitted to the hospital and tests confirmed I had a heart attack caused by the coronary spasm.
It’s important to know that I ignored my symptoms for longer than I should have. I kept thinking this is not happening to me. I am in my mid 40s, I exercise, I have good cholesterol and I do not have a family history of heart disease. I had no common risk factors for heart problems, yet I suffered a heart attack. It’s proof that there is always risk, for everyone.
If you have chest pain, please seek medical care. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
I was so blessed this happened at work, and I always will be grateful for the staff who cared for me. The people of this community are so lucky to have Northeast Georgia Medical Center right here in our backyard. Learn from my mistake, and let us help you when you need us.
Necole Acton Huelsbeck works in the heart and vascular services at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.