My history of heart problems

What Should I Do if I Have Chest Pains?

This post was written August 12, 2012, a day before I had an angioplasty performed to open an 80 percent blockage in one of the major arteries leading to my heart. If you have chest pains, don’t hesitate to go to an emergency room. Waiting could be the difference between quick treatment and something far worse.

Aug 12, 2012

What should I do if I’m having chest pains? That’s the question I e-mailed my doctor Saturday. His answer came a lot faster than most doctor responses — go to the emergency room and go now.

So I’m writing this from a hospital room where I’m being kept overnight to ensure I haven’t had a heart attack and that I’m not in immediate danger of having one.

Chest pains are a warning sign of a heart attack. This summer, and particularly in the past two weeks, I’ve found myself having severe shortness of breathe and chest pains on my daily walk to and from the train each morning. I have about a six block walk from the train to my office.

Early in the summer, I attributed the problems to the severe heat we’ve been having in Chicago. But this week, it cooled and the problems for me persisted, even became worse after I had a cold a few weeks ago.

I thought it might be a new allergy I’d developed or a reaction to the high mold counts being reported in the Chicago area. But my doctor said not to take chances.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, do not take chances either. My initial tests have all been negative, which is good news. It may end up being an allergy after all.


What Happens When You Go to the Emergency Room With Chest Pains?

This post was written in August 2012 shortly after I went to a hospital emergency room with chest pains.

Hospital emergency rooms are not very pleasant places, I’ve found. They’re filled with people in pain, for one thing, and if you’re there, you’re usually one of them or with someone you care about who is one of them.

The second thing I don’t like about them is they move at what I call doctor time, in other words, when the doctor is ready to see you, he or she will, not when you want to be seen.

When you go in and say you are having chest pains, I discovered this weekend, that changes a bit. The fear you may have a heart attack gets things moving faster, at least initially.

My wife and I were practically whisked into the emergency room examining station shortly after I arrived there Saturday complaining of chest pains. An EKG, which monitors heart rhythm and can detect problems, was done within minutes, coming up negative. Blood work also was done to look for signs of a heart attack, something the doctors call cardiac markers. Those also came out negative.

Even an X-ray of my chest was taken with a portable machine wheeled right in beside me.

All those negative results, though, shifted things to doctor time again. I was told I would have to stay overnight to have a stress test in the morning, a test which is considered the surest way to know if you have serious heart problems.

Once in my room, though, I was told that might not happen on Sunday as I was told before, we’d just have to wait and see. Welcome to doctor time.


What Happens When a Heart Stress Test Shows Problems?

This was written in August, 2012, as doctors searched for the reason for my chest pains.

I’ve been spending some time in Evanston (Ill.) Hospital trying to figure out why I’ve been having shortness of breath and chest pains on my morning walks from the train to my office.

Initial tests didn’t find anything wrong with my heart nor any sign that I may have had a heart attack, so I next took a stress test. That involves walking progressively faster and faster on a treadmill until you reach a running state, all the while exerting more effort and having your heart pump faster and faster. I had done one in 2008 and passed with flying colors.

The one I took Sunday was a different story. I was only able to stay on the treadmill eight minutes Sunday compared to 10 and a half in 2008. I never reached the running stage this time, my heart rate became so elevated so quickly they took me off and quickly examined my heart using an ultrasound screen similar to what is used for babies before they are born.

The cardiac specialist looking at the pictures said there might be problems and there might not, he wanted me to stay in the hospital for more tests Monday. I wanted a more definitive reason why I couldn’t just go home and come back for the Monday test. Another doctor tried to scare me into staying by telling me her husband had a heart attack. I don’t react well to scare tactics, quickly telling her I’d seen my own father die of a heart attack so I didn’t need her to scare me. Mentioning him, though, reminded me this wasn’t a time for me to be fighting with doctors. Staying also would give my wife some piece of mind about me, so I stayed.


What is it Like To Have Angioplasty?

Aug 14, 2012

I’m writing this Monday evening to post Tuesday. It’s been a long day for me but hopefully one that has taken care of a major health problem.

As regular readers know, I’ve been in the hospital because of shortness of breath and chest pains, both possible signs of heart problems.

Initial tests didn’t find the problem, so today cardiac specialists gave me an angioplasty, which involves inserting special dye into your arteries so blockages can be seen on X-rays, and then using a balloon and a small wire tube, known as a stent, to reopen any blocked spots in your arteries.

I lived through one today, watching as doctors looked at the blood flowing through my arteries up to a spot near the left side of my heart that was almost completely blocked (80% was the official figure). You stay awake during it all and there was little to no pain at the time. I watched as they inflated the mini-ballon and put the stent there to hold it open. And I watched as the blood flowed again.

I’m really still in shock thinking about how close I came to a heart attack had that artery shut down completely. For the past 26 years, I’ve worried that I would die from a heart attack at a relatively young age as my father did (he was 67). I’ve become paranoid about any signs that I might have heart problems, to the point of being almost a hypochondriac about it.

When I started experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains this summer, I dismissed it as a seasonal problem because of the extreme heat. But when it persisted, especially on some recent cooler days, I contacted my doctor for an appointment. When he heard the symptoms, he immediately ordered me to an emergency room and today’s surgery is the result.

It’s ironic to me that I didn’t react sooner but it also is a reminder about how we sometimes can’t believe bad medical news even when we’ve been watching for it a good portion of our lives.

My lesson from this is to know what diseases run in your family, know the warning signs, and act quickly when any appear, don’t hesitate or think it’s nothing, Moving quickly can save your life.


What Happens During Angioplasty?

Aug 17, 2012

I am now a survivor of angioplasty, a medical procedure in which a clogged artery to the heart is opened by using a tiny balloon and wire-mesh tube known in medical circles as a stent.

More than 1 million people get angioplasty each year in the United States, reports the National Institutes of Health, so I’m hardly in an exclusive group but I am very happy to be in this group today.


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