One Woman's Story: When Arm Pain Leads to Angina & Major Heart Concerns
Like many women who often travel carrying a heavy purse and a laptop, Sue Westendorf experienced reoccurring pain in her arm and shoulder. She ignored the continual pains, thinking they were just an occupational hazard. When it began to feel as if a ton of bricks was pressing against her, Westendorf finally made an appointment with her doctor. She thought her physician would encourage her to lighten her load. Westendorf never expected to hear news that she had major blockages in her heart.
“I was shocked to learn that I was a walking heart attack waiting to happen, especially since I didn’t have the typical symptoms of heart trouble like chest, jaw or back pain,” said Westendorf.
Westendorf said that most people are startled to learn about her heart troubles.
“To look at me, you’d think I was in near perfect health,” said Westendorf. “But heart disease and bad cholesterol are in my genetics. My body manufactures the bad type of cholesterol. I’ve been taking cholesterol medication for almost 18 years, but I never made the connection that my arm pain I [had] dealt with for a year was associated with angina.”
Angina is a reduced blood flow to the heart and can be caused by chest pain or other pains like arm, neck, shoulder, back and jaw. It is a symptom of coronary artery disease. Angina can be stable or unstable. Stable angina can occur during an exertion of a task, such as taking stairs on a cold or hot day. It goes away on its own.
Unstable angina may be a sign of a heart attack. It occurs unexpectedly or even at rest. The unstable type lasts longer and may not go away on its own. Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute (BHVI) can detect angina in several ways, such as during a stress test, electrocardiogram or EKG, an echocardiogram, a nuclear stress test, chest X-ray, blood tests, coronary angiography, CT scan or a cardiac MRI.
“Angina results from reduced blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle, making it struggle to work properly,” said James Lonquist, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon. “When it happens in an unexpected way, daily activities like walking may become uncomfortable. These symptoms may be a sign of serious coronary artery heart disease.”