Listening to your inner voice: When it isn’t MS but Heart Disease

  • It’s been said many times that not everything strange or odd you experienced is caused by MS.  But it is highly important to repeat that thought.


    MS is such a bizarre disease which affects the body in many different ways because it disrupts the central nervous system (CNS) which is the headquarters of the body’s electrical system.  Sabotage the electrical impulses traveling to and from the brain and it’s hard to predict just what might happen.

    In MS, the fatty, protective covering over nerves in the CNS, called myelin, comes under attack and is damaged.  When myelin is damaged, nerve impulses are disrupted and may not get through to their proper destination.  This is the basic cause of MS symptoms, although brain atrophy (shrinkage or loss of brain tissue) is also a culprit.

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    So as MS patients, we might get used to the unexpected and blame MS for unexplained symptoms.  Our doctors might also begin to listen to our concerns, if something new occurs or we experience a feeling that something just isn’t right, with a preconceived notion and less than sensitive ear.

    Let me tell you about two MS friends.  Each had a heart attack, but only one had a positive outcome.  The first friend, Laura, shares that she had a heart attack and was fortunate enough to get help quickly and suffer little heart damage.  She says, “dumb luck and listening to the voices that told me something was wrong sent me to the ER before my heart attack happened and it occurred in the hospital while I was already hooked up to nitroglycerin.”

    Mary, a nurse and online community leader, completed MS certification to deepen her knowledge of the disease.  Laura tells me that Mary “had known for years that something was wrong, but couldn't quite get a handle on it - her instinct told her over and over that her heart was in trouble but the doctors continued to dismiss her concerns as not significant.  She was able to call 911 this week, but the EMTs found her collapsed and she passed the next day.”

    A couple of years ago, I was visiting my MS nurse practitioner and mentioned an unusual sensation involving my heart.  For years, on very rare occasions, my heart felt as though it was doing backflips in my chest.  It wasn’t painful, but it was very strange to say the least.  But those flipflops had been occurring much more frequently and had been bothering almost constantly for about  a week. My MS nurse recommended that I consult with a cardiologist immediately and I was able to get a new patient appointment the following day.  

    A 24-hour heart monitor revealed that I was experiencing frequent premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).  PVCs are typically harmful, but if you have underlying heart disease, they may lead to more serious heart rhythm problems.  We needed to check my heart to see if it was healthy, especially since rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to cardiovascular disease and I was already on a statin drug for high cholesterol.  

    Fortunately, my heart is very healthy and the PVCs are only an occasional nuisance.  They happen mostly when I’ve been stressed or have had much too much caffeine.  But I need to continue to be aware of any changes in how my heart or lungs feel because I am at increased risk for heart disease, especially since both of my parents have different forms of heart disease.

  • When Laura emailed me with the news about Mary, I became very sad.  I agree with Laura that “it is way too easy to allow the problems of MS to dominate our health concerns” and to distract us from listening to that inner voice which tells us when something is wrong.  If Mary’s doctors had listened to her concerns more closely, her death may have been preventable.

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    “We are given instinct for a reason [but then] we are told to ignore that instinct.  Whether it is in MS possibilities or heart concerns or any other disease process, if a person thinks something is wrong, then it almost always is true, regardless of whether the doctors can find the answers.  People give up too easily and silence the voices that nag at them about something being wrong and ultimately pay the price with their health.”

    Please, don’t get complacent and think that everything unusual you may experience must be caused by MS.  You are equally at risk for other health concerns, including heart disease.  

    Speak Up!  Talk to your doctors when you suspect something is wrong.  Be clear in how you communicate your concerns.  If it were your child experiencing a problem, you would stand up for him.  You should do no less for yourself.  Be your own advocate as you listen to that inner voice.  Your life may be at stake.


    Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.


    For more information regarding heart disease in America, read the shocking statistics provided by The Heart Foundation.

Published On: June 19, 2013