One of the biggest challenges mitral valve prolapse syndrome patients face is knowing when to call the doctor. To people who have never experienced the associated chest pain or palpitations, you can’t understand the sheer panic these scary symptoms can cause. You know — without a shadow of a doubt — that you are dying of a heart attack. So you go to the emergency room and then you’re told you’re absolutely fine and that it was probably just a panic attack. It was all in your head. Once you’re told that, you begin to doubt your ability to know the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency from then on.
People usually go one of two ways after this happens to them: either they go to the doctor every five minutes about every little symptom they get (“just in case”), or they close the door on the medical profession and say, “Fine, then they’ll feel sorry when I’m dead on the floor of a heart attack and they just sent me away.” Neither approach is healthy.
Coming from personal experience, I will tell you that anxiety can indeed cause a LOT of the problems we experience on a daily basis. I remember one time I took a new prescription and I was convinced I was allergic to it because my throat felt like it was closing up and I couldn’t breathe. My doctor was not concerned, however. Evidently if you’re able to make a phone call to tell someone your throat is closing up, it’s probably not closing up. My point is that worry and anxiety cause a vast majority of our issues, in addition to the “actual” symptoms we already have to deal with. Worry, anxiety, and stress compound the situation and make it exponentially worse than it already is.
So, how do you know when to call, and when it’s nothing?
As I was telling some friends on Facebook today, I go by the “If I don’t know, it’s probably OK” way of thinking. In other words, if it’s really something bad, you will KNOW. When I had an ovarian cyst, I KNEW. When my gallbladder had to come out, I KNEW. When I had a kidney stone, I KNEW. There was no second-guessing in those situations. So if you’re thinking to yourself, “Is this symptom normal or does it mean something bad,” you can probably rest assured that your indecision means it’s not going to kill you.
One of the best ways to keep tabs on your symptoms so that you know what your “normal” is, is to keep a symptom journal. Do you experience palpitations after a large meal? Do you get feelings of claustrophobia when you get in a car? Do you experience chest pains when talking to your in-laws, or when driving over a bridge? If you can establish a pattern that’s easy to see in a journal, you can feel more confident about what is or isn’t “normal” for you.
I will add a caveat to all of the above, and that’s the fact that sometimes “duration” can indicate whether something is indeed serious or not. If you have a nagging little pain or symptom that is consistent and won’t go away or is getting worse — despite your best efforts at staying calm and not having a panic attack — you should get it checked out. Our son is a self-professed hypochondriac and when he complained of stomach problems a few months ago we chalked it up to it being all in his head, because it usually is. Within a few hours, however, he was in emergency surgery to have his appendix removed. When he came around from the anesthesia, he looked at me and said, “See? Sometimes it really is something!”
No one but you can know if what you’re going through is “normal” for you, so you have to be your own champion. If you think something might be wrong, get it checked out, and get a second and third opinion. If you think the symptom(s) might be caused by anxiety, worry, and stress, work on fixing that issue first so that you don’t have any pseudo symptoms covering up possible actual ones. The first step toward fixing our hypochondriac tendencies is by admitting we have a problem.