Am I having a heart attack or what?

Originally Published: March 12, 2004
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Dear Alice,

Heart attack or not; that is the question?

Hope for guidance. Last July 17, 2003, I was taken to the emergency room with all the symptoms of a heart attack. Doctors ran all kinds of test, and there was nothing wrong with me. This happens to be the third time I am being rushed to the emergency room for the same reason. Last Christmas, while my husband and I were opening the presents for the family, I got extremely dizzy, my chest began to hurt, my arm got numb, I was shaking, sweating, and I was having problems breathing, and there have been times in which either the left or right side of my head gets numb. Needless to say, according to the test results, there was nothing wrong with me. I am very concerned about these episodes, and greatly concerned with the results. Panic attacks had been ruled out, and I am not acting this out to get attention. Emotionally and psychologically, I am well balanced; apart from the ups and downs of the days of my menstrual period, I am normally quite balanced. And no, these episodes had never been around those days.

I truly hope that you may have some suggestions about these symptoms; I am open to any helpful suggestion you may be able to provide me. Your answer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, and God bless you.

Dear Reader,

What a scary situation you've been through. And, you must be frustrated not to have an answer as to why you have had these troubling and puzzling episodes. The symptoms that you describe can have a number of different origins, including gas, acid indigestion, muscle strain, pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs) or pneumonia, and heart attacks. As you can tell from this short list of conditions, chest pain can signal problems that are mild or serious.

It's clearly important that you see a health care provider whom you trust. If you've only been seen by emergency room medical providers, it would be wise to go to your regular health care provider. Would your husband or another trusted family member or friend be able to go with you? It would be particularly helpful to have someone who's actually been on the scene when you've had one of these episodes. When at the health care provider's office, let him or her know how concerned you are with the meaning of these episodes. If you have the results from your emergency room visits, bring those along for your health care provider to view.

You may also wish to discuss with your health care provider whether all of the appropriate tests to evaluate a heart attack have been done, because research has shown that women often have different heart attack symptoms than men. Because of the difference in symptoms, this research has also shown that heart attacks in women often go undiagnosed longer than heart attacks in men. For more information about this, read the Related Q&A listed below.

You were wise to think about whether the episodes you've experienced occurred around the time of your period. In fact, while you're waiting for your appointment, it would be useful to begin keeping a journal of the symptoms you experience. Notice and write down other important information in the journal as well, such as what you've eaten, whether you've had alcohol, whether you've taken any prescription and/or over-the-counter medicines, etc. This way, you and/or your health care provider may find some common factor that might be involved in the puzzle.

Alice