Misdiagnosis, it happens

I wrote and posted the following six months before I ended up having open heart surgery. If you are experiencing "heartburn" or any kind of chest pain, see your doctor right away and have your heart checked thoroughly. I was misdiagnosed with GERD when my problem was actually coronary artery disease. When you are diabetic, age doesn't matter! I was only 34 when I had heart surgery!

I have a high pain tolerance; as a child I used to get ear infections and not even realize I had one until my eardrum burst (or at least was on the verge of exploding). I suppose most of the time it is a good thing, being a Type I diabetic and having to take three injections a day and prick my finger several times a day; yeah, it's a good thing to have a tolerance for pain. Really, the injections and prickings aren't painful in the slightest. A better example of my tolerance for pain would be the broken finger, tail bone, and many other injuries I have had over the years that I didn't really find very painful. A bad thing about having a high pain tolerance is the annoyance I feel toward people that have a low tolerance for pain; I just can't understand why they are being such babies. It's just a broken bone, gosh...

Well, I can understand now what people mean by "Oh, my God! Just let me die already!" It all started about a year ago, maybe earlier. The symptoms began infrequently, a couple times a month with a mild pain in the center of my chest. Being a diabetic with no health insurance (I haven't seen a doctor in about 7 years), I worried it might be heart failure. I just buried it in the back of my mind with all the other things I was in denial about. Quickly, but just gradually enough, it became more frequent and severe. The pain in the center of my chest kicked in whenever I tried to do anything active, or bent over, or lay down, or ate a big meal. The pain spread to my arms, I got weak and tired and just had to sit down, sometimes the pain even penetrated through to my back!

It was when the pain was there everyday, mild pain all day with two or three severe flareups a day, that I finally researched the symptoms. According to the Internet (I read up on several sites) it was either heart failure or Esophagitis (AKA GERD). Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease, my symptoms fit perfectly. The sphincter at the end of the esophagus that opens into the stomach isn't working properly and acid is backing up into the esophagus causing painful and damaging heartburn. So, what can I do about it without health insurance? I did everything the Internet told me to; I cut out all the foods and stuff that cause heartburn: Onions, grease, fat, tomatoes, chocolate, caffeine, carbs, peppers, other spicy things, citrus fruits, tobacco, alcohol, etc. I tried to lose weight and succeeded to a small degree but it is hard to lose weight when you can't do any physical activity without severe pain. I ate TUMS like they were candy and tried Prevacid but it didn't help in the slightest. I ate black licorice and drank aloe vera juice, and ate foods that help relieve or prevent heartburn, with very limited results. I finally found a treatment that worked but it has its own down sides, apple cider vinegar. I have no idea how or why it works but it is the only thing that brings relief almost instantly and lasts for hours. I take a shot glass and fill it half way with apple cider vinegar and half with water and shoot it down in one gulp. After gaging for a moment I drink three shots of water to wash the taste out of my mouth. Moments later I feel much better, but not completely pain free...

Until recently the pain only kicked in when I tried to be active or ate too much or the wrong things. Then the day came when the pain woke me up early in the morning. This was the first time this had happened, heartburn on an empty stomach and while I was already asleep? On top of the strange timing, it was the most severe pain I had ever had; severe pain in the center of my chest, nauseating, dizzying, pain down my arms and across my collar bones, leg weakening pain, and even a bit of shortness of breath. I thought for sure I was having a heart attack!

After several hours in the emergency room, an EKG, chest x-ray, blood work, a nitro patch, and some other tests and observations, I left with the diagnosis of esophagitis and hypertension. They prescribed me Omeprazole and gave me instructions on how to control the heartburn (all the same stuff I've already been doing). So now I am relieved that my heart is healthy* but discouraged that I may never be rid of this constant and debilitating pain.

Will I forever be frightened to walk? Frightened of bending over? Loathing of the one thing I used to love almost more than anything, going to bed, because laying down is so very frightening now? Scared to eat because all eating does is cause me horrific pain? Will I ever be able to live, walk, clean my house, exercise, again?

*I was misdiagnosed in the ER. This diagnosis happened only six months before I ended up having open heart surgery. Be careful, have your symptoms checked by your primary doctor. Insist on ALL the tests.

Blessings, Tiki. This is a very timely warning. I was just reading in depth about how various serious heart problems are more often misdiagnosed in women, than in men. The numbers were sort of stunning. Combine this with many older women's reluctance to "make a fuss" and you have a recipe for a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering and death......Thanks for the post!.....Judith in Portland....