For more than a decade, Patti Hutton felt something was wrong with her heart.
Several times a day, Hutton would suffer sudden, severe chest pains but did not know the cause. “Basic, everyday things like taking a walk outside were a struggle," said Hutton. “I would be out of breath and couldn't enjoy activities without needing to take a break. I was constantly tired, and exercise was a real challenge. It was scary."
"I felt like there was something else going on with my heart and that my doctors weren’t really listening to me."
After seeing a doctor at another network, she was diagnosed with a myocardial bridge, a condition where one of the coronary arteries goes through the heart muscle instead of lying on its surface. Given the severity of her symptoms, her doctor at the time recommended open-heart surgery.
That recommendation did not sit well with Patti.
“I felt like there was something else going on with my heart and that my doctors weren't really listening to me," she admits. “It made me feel like I was crazy. That's when I decided to get a second opinion at The Christ Hospital Health Network."
After meeting with the team at The Christ Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute and undergoing specialized testing, Patti began getting real answers to the questions she had been asking for years.
Patti was diagnosed with coronary vasospasm, a sudden narrowing of the arteries in the heart that supply oxygen to the muscle. This can cause sudden chest pain that occurs predominantly at rest during the night or early morning.
She also was found to have
coronary microvascular disease (CMD), which affects the small heart arteries. In patients with CMD, the small heart arteries are unable to properly dilate to allow increased blood flow when needed, such as while exercising, which results in chest pain. It was also determined that her myocardial bridge was not the root cause of her symptoms.
"These spasms, when severe, can cause symptoms such as chest pain that are much like what a heart attack feels like."
Odayme Quesada, MD, medical director of the Women's Heart Center at The Christ Hospital, explains that it is important to listen to patients because if left untreated, severe coronary spasms can lead to a heart attack.
Coronary vasospasm and coronary microvascular disease fall under the umbrella of angina with no obstructive coronary artery disease, also known as ANOCA. It is a term to describe patients with symptoms not caused by blockage of the large heart arteries (also known as obstructive coronary artery disease).
Because these patients do not have blockage of the large heart arteries, they are often dismissed and falsely told that their symptoms are not heart related.
In patients with ANOCA, front-line cardiac testing is often normal, so these patients need to be evaluated with specialized testing for coronary microvascular disease. An estimated 3-4 million people are thought to have undiagnosed ANOCA in the United States, and it disproportionately affects women.
Dr. Quesada informed Patti that treatment for ANOCA does not involve surgery, and instead prescribed medication to target the coronary vasospasm and microvascular disease to alleviate the symptoms.
However, despite optimum medical therapy, she remained symptomatic. Dr. Quesada then recommended adding a noninvasive treatment for Patti's angina called enhanced external counter pulsation, or EECP.
"The Women's Heart Center helped me get back to an active lifestyle so I could keep up with my grandchildren."
EECP is used to treat patients with blockage of the heart arteries (coronary artery disease), but it has also been shown to help manage symptoms such as chest pain and improve exercise tolerance in patients with ANOCA.
“EECP can be instrumental in treating chest pain in patients that remain limited despite medical treatment," said Dr. Quesada. “For two months, Patti came in five days a week for hour-long treatments and saw improvement in her chest pain as a result. She then continued maintenance therapy for more than a year after to keep her symptoms under control."
The Women's Heart Center thought outside the box and remained persistent to properly diagnose and treat her condition. Now that Patti has the answers she had been searching for, she says she feels better than she has in 15 years.
A New Lease on Life Leads to New Opportunities to Pay It Forward
The WomenHeart National Hospital Alliance is a patient advocacy group that serves as a leading voice for millions of American women living with or at risk of heart disease. The Christ Hospital Women's Heart Center joined the Alliance this year, and Patti was recently selected to serve as a local Women Heart Champion.
She attended the annual Science and Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Women Heart Champions are the “boots on the ground" survivors trained to share their stories and help women take charge of their heart health in the fight against heart disease.
Patti will join fellow Women's Heart Center patients Carrie Lange and Debi Schweitzer as Women Heart Champions for the local chapter. They will use their stories and share information to help other women with heart disease.