On Wed. I heard some words I never thought I would hear, “heart attack.” First, I am not the typical age nor the typical profile. Second, my medical history is with GI issues and not with the heart. Third, I had gone to an urgent care facility earlier in the day. But that night changed everything.
My symptoms started more than a week ago with a minor GI issue. The next day the doctor cleared me. I have a history of a gall bladder issue and pancreatitis due to being in the minor percentages with such a pregnancy complication. In addition, I have an even longer history with Celiac. So I was not happy when a week later I had odd back pain that would radiate down my left arm to my wrist and fingers. I thought I must have pulled something. Two days after that GI issues returned along with extreme tiredness and more back pain. This time, I headed for urgent care suspecting flu and GI issues returning. I tested negative for the flu and the doctor explained that my back pain was not the typical flu but could be either heart-related although unlikely due to my age and health. Thus, he truly thought it was radiating pain from GI issues. He admitted that the urgent care was not set up to do the necessary lab work to look at all the possible GI conditions. Instead, I was given very simple orders: “go to ER if pain worsens or pain moves to chest and get into a gastroenterologist within the next two days.” We could not get into my gastro until the end of June so we found one closer who could squeeze us in on Friday. We took that appointment but within 4 hours we were driving to the ER. The pain got worse and steady, it hurt if I tried to take deep breaths or yawn, and I only felt good if I was sitting on my knees with my head on the ground. We knew there was a problem, but had no idea what the night had in store.
My husband and 9-year-old son take me to the ER. I tell them my symptoms and they immediately take me away for an EKG. I have had other ER visits whether me, my husband or my son and had never been taken so quickly like this. The nurse and ER doctor immediately moves me to a room, explains that I will not be leaving and that there is a possible problem with my heart. My family sees me and hears what tests they are doing, that a cardiologist is being called for a consult, and that they were perplexed by the EKG combined with the array of symptoms but not the usual age or health profile. My family then goes home so my son can go to bed, also we were thinking it would be some time before results would be in and I’d be moved to a room upstairs. We’ve done this kind of visit before. Sadly, 40 minutes after they leave a team of doctors comes in explaining my blood work says I am having a “heart attack.” They explained that I must have an immediate heart catheterization in order to determine what exactly is going on and if surgery is needed. Not only in pain but now in shock, I cried and asked them to call my husband.
I do not know what exactly my family was all told on the phone or who made the call. I can only imagine the thoughts they were having. I do know that my husband and son quickly arrived into the chaos of medical staff prepping me for moving to the “Cath Lab” and the cardiologist explaining what has to to be done. We are stunned by those words again, possible “heart attack.” Although at this time we start hearing another word as a possibility, “pericarditis.” My family follows and is lead to a different waiting room in the cardiac area while I enter the “cath lab.”
During the heart catheterization, I can see everything. My mind is spinning, partly due to pain meds and partly due to thoughts running through my head. But I hear everything and see lots. It is becoming clear to me, it is not a “real” heart attack. I hear the doctor excitedly say, there is absolutely no blockage. The blood work must be pericarditis but there is something else here. It is tiny, but this area is not right and it is takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The cardiologist explains everything to my husband and son and I’m taken upstairs to ICU. Now I have a name but no known cause and not at all what we expected when we entered the ER 3 hours earlier.
Due to the procedure and heart issues, I am taken to ICU. I am transferred to a bed and had it explained the monitoring would be frequent as well as I had to remain flat on my back until 5 am. That was my longest night. I got very little sleep. There are so many machines and noises even with lights off. But, they come and take readings every 15 to 20 minutes and administer medicine. I have an IV port on my left arm, blood pressure cough monitoring machine and blood oxygen machine on my right, and 10 leads to my chest. In addition, I still have so many thoughts going through my head: “I am 40 and had a copycat heart attack thanks to 2 weird named heart conditions I had never heard of.”
This was all so unreal. By the end of Thursday, we had learned way more about Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (here , here, and here) and Pericarditis (here, here , and here). These diseases are not real heart attacks but mimic one. Pericarditis is a disease of the outer lining of the heart while Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a contracting problem of the left ventricle . Both present symptoms that look like a heart attack but they are different. We also learned that nothing was wrong with either my pancreas or gallbladder but slight numbers off on my kidney and high numbers on infection. As my cardiologist said, “if you are ever going to have a heart condition, these are the ones because they often self-correct.”
By the end of Friday the echocardiogram revealed heart functioning had increased, and signs of infection were improving. By Sat. morning numbers were normal for everything and finally low enough on the infection that the internal medicine doctor agreed to discharge with the cardiologist. We do not know a cause and the hypothesis is a virus or GI Infection and Upper UTI/kidney infection causing a chain reaction. We will likely never know the cause. I see my cardiologist this week for follow-up. I am on the road to recovery and my heart will heal.
I am alive and I am home! And, I have a serious warning for all of you: If you have odd back pain and odd arm pain call a doctor. My ER caught everything early enough before a full-on heart attack did occur or any other complications. Do not take chest pain or difficulty breathing lightly. I am proof, this can happen at any age. I am still learning about my heart condition but thankful my cardiologist and hospital staff caught this early.