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YOUR HEALTH: When a heart attack is not a heart attack

It feels like a heart attack but prinzmetal angina has its own set of symptoms and dangers.

BALTIMORE, Maryland – She thought it was a heart attack.  It wasn't..

Two years ago Deb Utterbaugh woke up feeling nauseous and knew something was terribly wrong.

"I texted my husband. Who knows what I texted him because he came running up the stairs and I must have passed out."

"She had the blank stare. She turned ash grey. It lives in my mind to this day. it's something I've never seen before," remembered her husband Barry.

Deb was suffering the first of what would be four heart attacks in two years.

Tests showed no blockage, and no signs of heart disease in this otherwise, fit and healthy, then 48-year-old.

Doctors diagnosed her with prinzmetal angina.    Her pain was caused by coronary artery spasms.

"The muscles will contract constricting these arteries and then limiting blood flow to the muscle that it supplies," said Dr. Peter Reyes, a cardiologist at The Heart Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Doctors say it's important to know the signs of prinzmetal angina which may be similar to typical angina: tightness in the chest, pressure, shortness of breath, sweating or palpitations. and unlike typical angina which usually occurs during exertion, prinzmetal usually happens when a person is at rest.

"My arteries go into spasm and on me, my body wants to twist them, cut off the blood supply, and I usually lose consciousness when that happens," explained Deb.

Deb keeps the spasms at bay with a cocktail of medications.

While it's not something she wished for, Deb says her condition has brought her family closer.

"I've learned to appreciate my kids in a different way."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.