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Is my back and chest achiness related to anxiety attacks or a heart condition?

By July 30, 2010 - 7:43am
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I was diagnosed with panic disorder when I was 26. I was a healthy, athletic person who never had any medical problems. I became engaged to my now husband and my doctor (GP) thought the stress of planning a wedding caused my panic attacks. He prescribed Xanax and sent me on my way. After the wedding (a year later), I tried to stop taking the Xanax. Unfortunately, I was never warned by my doctor that this could cause withdrawal. Needless to say, it took me almost a year to wean off the Xanax, but I did it. Over the years I would have flare-ups of anxiety attacks which then became more constant. I would basically go to work and then stay home. I was afraid to go out or enjoy social events. I went to a CSW for help and obtained biofeedback sessions. This helped for a while, but then my physical symptoms started to come on worse with sweating (especially in the palms of my hands), heart palpitations, hyperventilation, feeling of "going crazy" and the feeling that I was going to die.

I went to a wonderful cardiologist referred to me by a fellow sufferer and he ran a battery of tests. He determined I was very healty and only had a mild case of mitral valve prolapse which was so minor that it warranted no concern. He reassured me that this would "not kill me" and referred me to a psychiatrist for my panic attacks. This was the best thing for me. I was finally able to understand my aches & pains were stress related and deal with that knowledge appropriately. He put me on Zoloft and Klonopin. The Klonopin I only have to use on a "when needed" basis. I have been on this regimin now for approximately 7 years and it has been like a miracle. I got my life back.
In the past few weeks, I have had to deal with the stress of my mother being in the hospital for 3 months with various ailments and she came close to death a few times. She started out with a bladder infection which eventually lead to MRSA and this created a vegetative growth which damaged the mitral valve of her heart. She underwent mitral valve replacement surgery and spent many weeks in and out of ICU as she kept developing "C-DIFF". I went to see her every day after work and got home so late that I either did not have dinner or ate too close to bedtime. She is back home now and doing wonderful. It is a miracle she survived. The bad side is that I think this stress put a subconscious toll on me. My husband and I are also having our share of financial difficulties as many people are today.
I am now 45 years of age. My last physical was 6 months ago, and I was fine. I need to lose some weight like many Americans, but otherwise I was told I was healthy.
Now, in the past 2 weeks, I am experiencing thoracic back ache (not pain, but ache), achiness to the chest area (center breast bone section to be exact) and achiness to the right shoulder and neck area. I am trying to attribute this to physical exertion from household duties, etc....but now my anxiety is triggering in that maybe I am exibiting signs of a heart condition. It stays in my mind almost constantly to the point where I am breaking out into sweats again and having heart palpitations after years of no attacks. I saw a new cardiologist a few days ago as I feared the worst. He was very thorough and I told him of my concerns. My prior cardiologist had moved to another state, so I did not have a good cardiology check-up for 5 years. This doctor listened to my heart and said he could hear the mitral valve prolapse, but did not express too much concern about it. He then had blood drawn. I was then given an echocardiogram test. Since I was allowed to leave, I tried to assure myself that nothing serious was found or they would not have let me leave. I am now scheduled to take a nuclear stress test and then wear a 24 hr halter monitor in another week. I am familiar with all these test. I will then have consult to get my results on 8/5/10.
The doctor is also going to obtain all my records from my prior cardiologist for comparison. He said my EKG was "abnormal" which sent my brain into overdrive. I cried like a baby and said "I'm going to die". He was very nice and told me that he did not see anything serious and to try to stay calm. Most likely the achiness in the chest and neck are from a musculoskeletal strain related to stress. I have since put a heat pack on my back and it seems to help a lot. I am not having any shortness of breath or dizziness. I am so embarrassed by these panic attacks as I feel like a freak of nature. The Klonopin does make those symptoms dissipate for a few hours, but I am back to having that constant fear of another attack forthcoming. I am not going through menopause and walk everyday for a few miles to get excercise. I seem to feel better when I go for a walk. I feel so alone with this and like a freak. My older sister does not have this problem. My father had panic attacks, but was able to control them very well. Am I just over-reacting to the aches? Today is the first day in a week that my heart is not palpitating as I am trying to realize this may not be as bad as I am making it seem. Also, I will be getting answers on my heart shortly. I have no sharp chest pains or arm pains. I think my brain just goes into a frenzy and puts my body into a flight response mode. It is making me crazy!!! I go to work every day and fight to keep my life. I don't want to be a house-ridden person afraid of everything. Please give any advise you can to this scared and stressed out person. Thanks very much!!!

Add a Comment5 Comments

I have exactly the same problem....Mitral Valve Prolapse scares me and I get skipped heartbeats as well. I have had anxiety attacks for 23 years now and fight them off, if I can't, I take a half of Xanax. I have been laid off work now for 2 years and I am without medical insurance so every pain and every heart flutter sends me into a major panic attack.

September 3, 2010 - 10:56am
(reply to Karin4)

Thank you. It is comforting to know there is somebody else out there who can relate. I am sorry about the job loss. My job does not provide insurance, but I was fortunate to get coverage on my husband's coverage with his employer. We both work but with property taxes and all other prices rising, we are looking at a form of bankruptcy to keep our house and start over. It's so hard to get the bills paid and have nothing left. This is the kind of stress that affects folks like you and I in a physical way that most people would not understand. I wish you luck and am grateful to know somebody else out there can truly understand.

September 3, 2010 - 8:55pm

Hi modelbuild,
Thank you for your question and for being a part of the EmpowHer community. It sounds like you are very on top of your health, and are in the care of a good team of doctors. Kudos for taking care of yourself! I hope sharing your story was cathartic for you. I know when things are overwhelming, it helps me to write. It's good you walk. I like to be active too. In addition to other things, I practice yoga which helps to center me, clear my mind, and gives me focus to just breathe.
Do you still visit the psychiatrist? That seemed to help you in the past. I'm not a doctor, so I can't say if the pain is heart related, or stress. I can tell you though that I have periodic panic attacks and they do a number on you both physically and emotionally. It can be a battle to keep it under control. You know what that feels like. If the pain is different from that, or you feel super volatile, get help, I say.
Have you checked out EmpowHer's condition pages for Anxiety and Depression? There also is a new Group for Depression(Anxiety) which may provide a support.
Good luck and let us know how your tests turn out.

July 30, 2010 - 10:05am
(reply to Christine Jeffries)

I now have all my test results from the cardiologist and my heart is very healthy with the mitral valve prolapse still minor. My cholesterol is a bit high and after some diet and exercise he will check it again in January. He attributes my recent panic attacks to overwhelming stress. The most ironic thing is that as soon as I starting taking these tests, the panic attacks stopped completely. Like other sufferers of this disorder, I should be happy; however, it is so disturbing to never have a "magic cure" for this. As long as it is manageable I am telling myself to count my blessings as there are a lot worse things out there. So this time it would seem my aches and pains were stress related, but I would always recommend seeing a doctor to get checked out and put on the right path such as being referred to a psychiatrist. This does not mean you are "crazy". I am seeing my psychiatrist next month for our usual visit. I want to thank those who responded and hope others may have been helped from reading about my issues.

September 3, 2010 - 8:43pm
(reply to Christine Jeffries)

I still see the psychiatrist every 6 months for maintenance and he is great. I spoke to him on the phone today and he said to meditate and do something fun like walk on beach at night, etc... I made a typo on my original post in that I don't get my results until 8/25/10. So I will check out some yoga and see if that helps too. Thank you.

July 30, 2010 - 1:19pm
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