A Yorkshire mother-of-two developed crushing chest pains when she was 42, and the pain remained with her for 14 years. While Dorothy Asquith was initially rushed to the hospital with a suspected heart attack, test revealed that her arteries were perfectly normal. Despite this, the pain persisted and was sometimes so severe that she could not even get up to boil the kettle.
Doctors were confused and were only able to provide her with pain medication which did not help the pain. This affected her quality of life and caused a great deal of stress to her and her family.
She was then referred to Professor Peter Collins, consultant cardiologist at Royal Brompton Hospital, and he diagnosed cardiac syndrome X.
This disorder causes intense crushing pain in the chest, identical to that cause by a heart attack or angina. However, unlike these other problems, there is no obvious physical cause for the chest pain in cardiac syndrome X. This syndrome is known to affect 12,000 people but experts believe the true number could be far higher due to those who are not referred for specialist treatment.
Professor Collins said: “I see 16 to 20 patients a week in my heart clinic. However, many patients across the country go unmanaged – they are told they don’t have any heart problems and are simply sent away… This leaves a patient thinking they are going mad or that they are imagining the pain.”
Recent studies using MRI scans have revealed that in some patients, tiny vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle fail to open properly, reducing the flow of blood, which triggers intense pain. Another possible cause is changing oestrogen levels — menopausal women are particularly at risk of the condition.
In some patients, medication does not control the pain and Professor Collins and his team have now started a clinical trial of hypnotherapy with syndrome X patients at Royal Brompton Hospital. Mrs Asquith had eight sessions of hypnotherapy with Daniel Fryer, psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist and has not suffered from severe pain since. She said: “I don’t know where I’d be without the treatment.”
The Royal Brompton Hospital private patients’ centre offers a Heart Risk Clinic which give patients who have concerns about their heart health access to specialists such as Professor Peter Collins. This heart screening service takes just over two hours and starts from £195.