I’ve always been perfectly healthy, in spite of myself. After blood work, each test result falls right into the desired range. Although my weight has fluctuated it has typically stayed within the “normal” BMI range. I’ve never had broken a bone, had a serious illness, or needed surgery. I still have all of my wisdom teeth. Yes, I’m perfectly healthy, except for this pesky heart condition.
It started so long ago that I can’t say how long ago. Every now and then my heart would flutter. Then it became that my heart rate would would speed up for no apparent reason and race sometimes for hours.
Years ago I talked to a doctor about this. She gave me an inhaler and told me to try cutting back on caffeine, which I did for about 6 months. I don’t remember if I had any episodes while I had cut caffeine. Even if I didn’t it wouldn’t have proven a connection since at the time I was only having my heart episodes once or twice a year. The inhaler never helped.
In the past year or so though these episodes have gotten more frequent and last longer. I usually have heart palpitations (a fancy word for having a rapid heart rate for no reason) at least once a month. Sometimes my heart will start racing in the evening and still be pounding when I wake up the next morning. It may even carry on until lunch.
During a particularly long and intense one of these episodes earlier this year, my husband implored me to go to the urgent care clinic. At the time I was feeling a bit dizzy. I told him I would rest until I was able to walk comfortably, then I would go, which I did.
When I went to the clinic they told me I needed to go to the emergency room. NOW. They said I wasn’t in danger, but I should have tests run right then.
I’m not sure what my heart rate was at the clinic, but when I arrived at the emergency room my pulse was 140 beats per minute (bpm). The hospital ran a lot of tests: blood work, a chest x-ray. Those results were normal. However, they also ran an EKG. Although by that point my pulse was only 120 bpm it was still enough to get a record of the fact that something abnormal was going on with my heart.
I brought my EKG results to my doctor (not the same one who gave me the useless inhaler years earlier). She ordered an ultrasound of my heart. It was normal. She referred me to a cardiologist. He had me do a stress echo test, which means walking on a treadmill while hooked to a bunch of wires until your heart reaches a certain rate at which time you rush onto a table so that they can ultrasound your heart. Fun! Again, my results were normal.
My cardiologist also referred me to a neurologist because of optical auras and tunnel vision that I’d sometimes experience along with my heart palpitations. The neurologist diagnosed me with ocular migraines, which basically means a migraine without the headache. So, I guess there is something else wrong with my health besides my heart condition, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who actually gets migraine headaches isn’t going to have much sympathy for this particular malady, particularly since my doctor told me that when I’m having these vision problems I should try drinking caffeine. My doctor basically prescribed me coffee!
The other thing my cardiologist did was have me wear an event monitor for a month. Wearing an event monitor involves sticking snaps to your chest then attaching wires to them. At the other end of the wires is a device about the size of a deck of cards that you hang around your neck. There is also a small brick of a cell phone that must be within 10 feet of you at all times. When you feel something abnormal with your heart you press the buttons on the necklace part of the device. This triggers a survey screen on the phone with a few questions to fill out, then about 90 seconds of monitoring data is sent to your doctor.
I wore the event monitor for weeks without any measurable palpitations. The stickers irritated my skin and needed to be replaced every few days. I had trouble finding spots on my skin to stick them that weren’t already red and irritated from their predecessors. I also had trouble finding outfits for work that masked the lump apparatus hanging in front of my breast bone. These were not good times.
Finally, after three weeks of being wired up I had palpitations again and my doctor got enough data to diagnose my particular tachycardia (another fancy word for a fast heartbeat).
I was diagnosed with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) which means my fast heartbeat starts in the upper chambers of the heart. This is better than ventricular tachycardia, which is far more dangerous, so yay for not that.
The type of SVT I have is Atrial Fibrillation (or A-Fib for those who like their medical conditions to sound like celebrity nicknames). The good news is that A-Fib itself isn’t life-threatening. The main risk is that the irregular heartbeat can form a blood clot, which could lead to a stroke. As a result, people with this condition are sometimes prescribed blood thinners, but my doctor told me “because you’re so young” I could just start with taking an aspirin a day.
“Because you’re so young.” That’s something several doctors have said to me about this. When I was pregnant six and even eight years ago, I was labeled “advanced maternal age” (a fancy term for old), but in the world of heart conditions I’m considered young. At least I have that going for me.
My regular cardiologist referred me to a cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology. This special specialist has suggested an elecctrophysiology study, which means running wires through a vein in my leg and up to my heart then stimulating the heart to try to trigger tachycardia. The goal is to figure out where the irregular electrical impulses that cause my palpitations are coming from. If he can figure that out, he can perform an ablation, which means he will use radiofrequency impulses to destroy the electrical pathway causing my fast heart rate by burning it.
As you might expect, running wires into your heart and burning it from the inside has some potential risks, but my doctor said that if they can identify where the problem is coming from and perform the ablation my tachycardia will be gone. I can live a long life and never have to worry about it again. So that’s what I’m hoping for, that I can go back to being perfectly healthy, minus the pesky heart condition. Now I just need to wait six weeks for my appointment.
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