SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A Memorial Health cardiologist is encouraging Georgians to take chest pain seriously and to contact a doctor if they notice symptoms.
Dr. Chad Huggins says most people will experience chest pain at some point in their life. Many assume it's a problem with their heart, but he says things like heartburn, lung irritation or just general aches and pains can present themselves as chest pain.
"If someone is having a heart attack, they usually know," he said. "I mean, that's something that comes on. It's usually severe pain or tightness. What we're really talking about is just kind of some weird symptoms in the chest area, maybe in the arm or neck, and it kind of comes and goes and you aren't really sure."
If someone isn't sure what's causing the pain, Dr. Huggins says it's important to see a doctor to rule out a heart issue. He says tests involved in a typical cardiac workup, like an EKG or a treadmill stress test, are non-invasive and fairly fast, but many people put off seeing a doctor after noticing symptoms.
"A lot of people are afraid to come in because they're afraid of what the results may show or the tests that they may have to go through or the expense associated with it," he said.
Dr. Huggins says those who can recognize the symptoms best often wait longer than others to see a doctor.
"Healthcare workers probably put it off more than anyone else," Dr. Huggins said. "It's pretty amazing what they will endure before seeking medical attention."
Registered nurse Julie Heintz one such healthcare worker. She wasn't concerned about some chest pain she felt during a work meeting until her arm went numb.
"Well, I thought I was having a heart attack because I'm a nurse, and I know that's one of the big symptoms of a heart attack," said Heintz, who also works in Memorial Health's Quality Department. "You know, of course, I was frightened and scared."
As a former ICU nurse, she knows panic doesn't solve problems, so she took an aspirin and headed to the emergency department. Doctors said she didn't have a heart attack, just a fast heart rate.
"For me, the greatest thing was the peace of mind that it was OK and that I didn't have a heart attack and that medications took care of what I needed," she said.
Her advice to others is to listen to your body and take your symptoms seriously.
"It's not what you want to do, but you have to go check it out," Heintz said. You only have one heart, and once that muscle dies, you can't get it back."
Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death in Georgia, killing more than 20,000 people a year. Dr. Huggins said if someone is a smoker or has diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease, it's more likely their chest pain is heart-related, and that person should see a doctor.