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What It's Like Not Knowing If Your Symptoms Are an Emergency

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It’s safe to say, I’ve had my share of struggles and within the last few weeks. I’ve endured a lot. A trip to the emergency room a week ago made me realize how difficult it is to have heart and lung disease. Chest pains emerge, and I have a hard time telling if the pain is heart or lung. Every pain and sharp or shooting stab in the chest can feel like it’s on the surface or very deep.

Doctors need to tell patients will both diseases what to assess when struggling with chest pains. Almost every day, I have heart attack symptoms. Last week, I was having persistent chest pains accompanied by several other symptoms that signaled a heart attack. This drove me to the emergency room. The scariest part of having both lung and heart disease is not being able to decipher what type of pain I am dealing with. There’s angina, indigestion, and chest pains that might be warning signs of a heart attack, but it’s difficult to distinguish what is occurring.

Sometimes I want to say, “Ah, chest pains. I’ll let this take its course and do nothing.” I’ll kick my feet up and assume the problem will solve itself. A trip to the ER means the problem didn’t resolve itself. The pain continued and worsened, triggering other symptoms. I always ask my doctors what I should look out for regarding distinguishing these pains, and I am always told they don’t know what to do for me. I go to the emergency room, and tests come back normal. However, with this ER trip, I learned that my blood pressure had been rapidly dropping with aggravating heart palpitations that feel close to a heart attack. As I tried to rule out the cause of this, I kept thinking that I was in emotional distress or that anxiety had been taking its toll on me. Anxiety doesn’t cause severe drops in blood pressure last I checked, but maybe it does.

Doctors need to stop telling patients, “You’re just stressed. Take time off.” A doctor said this to me when, actually, for the last six months, I’d been having heart issues again when I wasn’t stressed or in emotional distress.

Doctors are quick to label your pain as anything to ease your mind about the symptoms. The last time that occurred, I found myself almost having my second open heart surgery. So no, I don’t accept it when I hear, “You’re just stressed.” Believe me, if I am getting that stressed, I wouldn’t be doing the work I am doing today. I can’t afford stress. Do I have anxiety? Yes, but I manage it. When pain comes on, and I can’t distinguish if it is heart or lung, that alone causes anxiety.

So, should I rush to the emergency room every time I feel pain or a pinch in my chest?

I will not live my life on a panic switch, pushing some button every time I feel discomfort or shortness of breath. I do my best to eat right and exercise. When the pains come on, I have to lie down and assess if I am in an emergency situation or not.

There is a reason why I say it’s important to listen to your body.

If you don’t know what your pain is telling you, it’s OK.

Just don’t just wait it out and hope it’s nothing.

Remember, if you’re uncertain, don’t be scared to ask for help.

Originally published: September 20, 2018
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