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Joanne Fairclough

Living with vasospastic angina


Working in the sporting goods industry, Joanne Fairclough made it her mission to stay healthy and fit. That’s why she knew something was wrong when a casual walk up the street suddenly started leaving her out of breath. In addition to palpitations, chest tightness and back pain, Joanne saw multiple doctors over many years, and underwent a range of tests to try and get to the bottom of her problem.

“There was nothing that would pinpoint anything in particular,” Joanne recalls 10 years after her diagnosis with vasospastic angina. “Women present differently than men when it comes to cardiac issues, but that is just starting to be known,” she adds.

Joanne eventually drove herself to a Cardiac Speciality Unit near her residence in Montreal Canada, but after an angiogram showed clear arteries, she was left with no answers once again.

“I knew something wasn’t working properly,” Joanne states. That’s when she made an appointment with a cardiologist friend to see how he could help. This physician agreed something was going on but had to acknowledge he wasn’t sure what. Luckily for Joanne, he referred her to a specialist Interventional Cardiologist who eventually made a diagnosis of vasospastic angina—4 years after her symptoms first started.

Joanne is quick to add that her symptoms didn’t always match typical “angina symptoms,” and included discomfort beyond chest pain. She was particularly affected by severe bouts of exhaustion that forced her to leave her job and cut back on socialising with friends.

“It’s a big problem that’s misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. Many people suffer for years without a diagnosis,” Joanne emphasises. While her condition still limits her activities and she does have to watch out for things that trigger her angina, Joanne is glad to have a diagnosis.

“With the confirmation, you get access to medications that you wouldn’t normally have access to otherwise, and you get a better treatment plan because they can mix different medications,” Joanne adds about life after diagnosis. She acknowledges no two people are the same and so their treatment regimens won’t be either.

But the biggest lesson Joanne has taken away from life with angina is to “trust your instincts” and know that “no one understands what we’re living but us.” She emphasizes everyone has to fight for their health and trust themselves when it comes to our bodies and what we’re really feeling. While angina is something to be lived with, Joanne stays positive and has become an expert on her own body and what keeps the angina at bay.

“Listen to your body and fight for yourself,” she says. Joanne is now active in online support groups and patient organisations, helping herself and people like her get the diagnosis and treatment they deserve.

Learn more about angina here.