Dr. Roach

Dr. Keith Roach

DEAR DR. ROACH: I’ve been experiencing pain in my chest, dizziness and shortness of breath on exertion. The chest pain lasts for a few hours. At one point, it was so bad that I couldn’t walk a hundred feet, had to use a cane and severely limit my physical activity. I’ve been to the doctor about this before. They take an EKG, which comes back normal, so they chalk it up to anxiety, then tell me I’m fat. (I am not unaware that I’m fat, but even when I was doing intense martial arts twice a week, I couldn’t lose the weight. And my physical therapist told me not to do yoga.)
If it makes a difference, I’m also a Type 2 diabetic and have fibromyalgia and PTSD. This is not the only issue that doctors have refused to treat, because they can blame it all on my weight. My diabetes went unchecked for a while because my doctor only wanted to tell me to lose weight instead of ordering blood tests when I complained about the symptoms.
When these symptoms happen, my friends tell me to go to the doctor, but they don’t do anything to change the situation. Why should I pay over $1,000 and waste a few hours for an urgent care visit and an EKG only to get told that I’m fat and anxious, when I can cover my chest with stickers, play on my phone and tell myself I’m fat at home for free? Who’s right, me or my friends? — S.T.
ANSWER: I am very sorry to hear how poorly you are being treated. I have heard from many people that doctors do not take symptoms seriously in people who are overweight or obese. (There is strong evidence that this is true, and that women and people of color also are systematically treated worse. People with any mental health issue, such as anxiety or PTSD, are often disbelieved.)
While I understand that you are frustrated, your symptoms are very concerning. Particularly if you are over 50, they are highly suggestive of heart disease — especially in a person with diabetes, which increases risk of heart disease.
Given your poor experience, how much you are paying and your PTSD, I can absolutely understand why you are reluctant to go. However, you deserve to get good care, and I believe you will be able to find a doctor who can treat you well and not automatically write any complaint off due to your weight and anxiety. I’d recommend you be completely honest about your concerns.
When I have a patient with multiple ER or acute care visits for possible heart disease, I often recommend a more definitive test than an EKG and blood testing, which is the usual acute care evaluation to look for damage to the heart muscle. This may be a coronary CT angiogram, which is highly sensitive and specific. (The weight limit for this test depends on the scanner, but is typically 450 pounds.)
If you have blockages in your heart causing your recurrent symptoms, it needs to be treated to prevent a heart attack. If blockages aren’t the cause, the EKGs usually aren’t helpful, and you need a different type of evaluation to find out where these symptoms are coming from.
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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.
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