Invisible killer heart condition: Rare angina may affect 500,000

Invisible killer heart condition: Rare angina may affect 500,000

Jeannie Edwards, 63, felt heart attack-like pain in her chest several times a week

Sharp, stabbing chest pains were something Jeannie Edwards had tolerated for decades.

The pains would come on several times a week, and although they matched the description of heart attack symptoms, because she was only in her late 30s when they started, Jeannie was told there was ‘nothing to worry about’.

As Jeannie, now 63, a human resources director from Twickenham, South-West London, recalls: ‘I didn’t feel a crushing chest pain but I did feel like my heart was being squeezed hard — and the pain would radiate down my left arm and up my neck.

‘I thought at the very least it must be angina. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to have a heart attack. But because I was slim and fit, I wasn’t an obvious candidate.’

Indeed, the first doctor she saw took one look at her slight build (at 5ft 3in, she weighs just 7st), noted her healthy, non-smoker lifestyle and said it was highly unlikely that anything was wrong with her heart.

Angina — pain from partially blocked arteries — was ruled out because the attacks occurred even when she was lying down (angina is associated with exertion on exercise).

‘The doctor listened to my heart and said it was normal and the pains were nothing to worry about so I wasn’t referred for any further investigations,’ says Jeannie. ‘I felt reassured at the time, but the pains continued — with sometimes three attacks a week, every week — so I began to worry again.’

When she was in her 40s, and living in the Far East, Jeannie, who is married to Cliff, 72, saw a number of doctors but none suggested any further action.

‘Some thought the pains might be stress-related, but while it was true that I had a really busy job, the attacks didn’t happen at stressful times, so that didn’t make sense,’ recalls Jeannie.

‘Another time, a doctor said the chest pains could be costochondritis — inflammation of the cartilage which joins the ribs to the breast bone. But from what I’d read, this usually goes away on its own after a couple of months.

‘Others called the attacks “pseudo-angina” — angina symptoms without a medical cause —and implied it was psychological or suggested I was looking for attention. This deterred me from seeing doctors about the chest pains and I didn’t insist on tests.’

But four years ago, back in the UK, Jeannie’s attacks were getting more frequent and more intense. This time, her doctor referred her to a private cardiologist.

The cardiologist suggested Jeannie have two investigations: an angiogram, a type of X-ray that uses a special dye and a camera to investigate blood flow in the arteries, and an MRI stress test scan.

This measures blood flow in the microvascular system — the network of tiny arteries and veins — when the

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