Yasmin Vossoughian wanted to believe doctors when they told her the pain she was experiencing in her chest was simply acid reflux. Unfortunately, she says, her body was “pretty certain not to believe” the misdiagnosis.
Speaking upon her return to MSNBC the news anchor detailed how on Dec. 20 she began to feel chest pains which “waxed and wained” over the next 10 days. On Dec. 30, she went to urgent care and was told she had reflux. “I didn’t really buy it but I was relieved it wasn’t my heart,” she said. “My body though was pretty certain not to believe the reflux. The next day I woke up with severe pain in my chest and left shoulder, it was like a tightening in my chest when I took deep breaths that got worse when I was laying flat.”
Reminding viewers she previously ran seven miles a day four times a week, and doesn’t eat meat or smoke, Vossoughian said in that moment she feared she was having a heart attack. In the emergency room she was diagnosed with pericarditis—inflammation of the lining of the heart—brought on by a virus or, in her case, a common cold.
“I had fluid around my heart that had to be drained or else it could hinder the beating of my heart,” she said. “I was hospitalized for four nights. [On Jan. 7,] I was readmitted when I felt a flutter in my heart, like a butterfly was inside my chest. They determined I had developed myocarditis—inflammation of the actual heart now—the heart muscle.
“I remember being shepherded through the emergency room and wondering: ‘Is this it?’ It wasn’t, thank God, instead I spent five more days in the hospital where they ran a battery of tests, adjusted my meds and made sure nothing else was fueling what was happening. In the end it was still just the cold that was doing all of this.”
Speaking to Insider, the 44-year-old journalist said she wished she had “listened to her gut” instead of accepting the “frustrating” misdiagnosis: “A lot of times as women specifically, we don’t trust our gut, we don’t trust our instincts because we’re pleasers, society tells us to be pleasers.”
Adding that in high-pressure jobs like journalism it can be tempting to jump back in at the deep end, she cautioned, “You have to not let kind of all of those insecure feelings back in.”
What are the symptoms of pericarditis?
According to the American Heart Association, the illness can be brought on by viral, bacterial, fungal or other types of infections. Heart surgery and heart attacks can also prompt the condition, as well as pre-existing medical issues, injuries and medications.
Pericarditis can be acute or chronic. Acute means that it happens suddenly and doesn’t last for long, chronic means it develops over time and thus may take longer to treat. In extreme cases the illness can lead to abnormal heart rhythm and death. The most common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain. This is because the pericardium—a two-layered sac-like structure which holds the heart in place—can become inflamed and rub against the heart.
The Cleveland Clinic outlines further symptoms of the illness, including sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when coughing, swallowing, lying flat or taking deep breaths. Another symptom is feeling this discomfort ease when sitting up and leaning forwards. Further symptoms include pain in a patient’s back, neck or left shoulder, a dry cough, palpitations (irregular-feeling heartbeats) anxiety, fever, fatigue—and in severe cases swelling of the ankles, feet and legs.
In Vossoughian’s case, she had both pericarditis and myocarditis. The two differ because they relate to different points of inflammation in or around the heart. The latter could also be identified as when a patient is suffering with pericarditis they feel better when sitting up and forward, with myocarditis people tend to feel more tired and weak.
Dr. Greg Katz was Vossoughian’s cardiologist when she was being treated at NYU Langone Hospital, and added that “anecdotally” he had seen more of these cases post-COVID. Speaking on Vossoughian’s MSNBC show, he explained, “Nobody knows exactly why this is and whether this is a standard blip or whether my anecdotal experience is a little bit skewed. It could be this season is a little bit more virus-heavy than usual, maybe our immune systems are a bit different than they were because we’ve been masking and social distancing for a couple of years.”
As well as outlining the main symptoms of the illness, Katz echoed Vossoughian in telling people to listen to their bodies: “There’s this feeling that ‘something is off with my body’. Fevers, chills, kind of like non-specific symptoms. The feeling that something is wrong is the kind of time when you should be thinking: ‘I should get this checked out.’… [W]e’ve all had a cold and we’ve all recovered from it and sometimes if that recovery’s a little bit different it’s not a bad idea to just make sure that you’re being checked out.”
What is the treatment for pericarditis?
The Mayo Clinic says pericarditis can be treated through a range of methods. Over-the-counter or prescribed pain relievers may be advised such as Advil or Motrin IB. A drug called colchicine may also be used as it works to reduce inflammation but can interfere with other drugs. For those suffering longer-term symptoms, corticosteroids can be prescribed which are strong medications also used to fight inflammation.
If, like Vossoughian, the condition is brought on by an infection then drainage may be needed, or antibiotics to fight the original problem. The drainage technique is called pericardiocentesis and is done using a sterile syringe or small catheter. In extreme cases the entire pericardium needs to be removed in a procedure called a pericardiectom, often advised when the sac becomes completely rigid.
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