Saturday, August 21, 2010
Ticker issues over 50...
I've always been fairly active and never felt the need to work out. Bicycling, snow sports, surfing, backpacking and that sort of thing seemed to keep me in shape for the most part.
As I get older I find that relatively minor injuries take a toll. A tweaked knee here, a back spasm there seemed to put me on the disabled list for a longer and longer recovery period. During those recovery periods I found myself losing ground as far as physical fitness was concerned.
A couple of years ago I found myself suddenly struggling to get air while on a steep hike out of a remote canyon. My throat felt tight, I was sucking wind and my pulse was irregular and hard to find.
I made it home and figured I was old and out of shape. I decided to purchase a heart rate monitor and begin cardiac training. I calculated my 'target zone' and programmed it in to the heart rate monitor. Day by day I rode my bike, got in the zone and kept it there for an hour or so as often as possible.
Every now and then, I'd feel those same symptoms and when I checked my monitor would find that my rate had jumped suddenly from the 165 range to 200+ in seemingly one beat. As long as I ceased the activity, the rate would drop just as suddenly back to the 165 range and I would feel better.
I discussed this with my MD who ordered a treadmill with a local cardiologist. For some reason I made it through without problems and felt no symptoms even though my rate was as high as 180 during the test. I was told I was OK but I felt as if the test was inconclusive... I.E. no symptoms during test? Whatever it was wasn't happening. That to my way of thinking didn't mean there wasn't an underlying problem.
I then went online and bought a portable EKG recording device that stores the EKG signal in 30 second intervals. I pumped out an event on my exercise bike and recorded the weird rhythm.
I showed it to my doc who seemed unimpressed but I stuck to my guns and demanded a cardiology consultation. I was dismissed as having an anxiety disorder and prescribed a powerful anti-anxiety medication. I did however leave the office with a consult for the cardiologist.
The cardiologist hooked me up with a 'holter monitor' to record any events that occured over a period of one week. I went home, got on my exercise bike and stomped one out.
After transmitting the data via telephone - it worked like a FAX machine - the cardiologist called me directly and wanted to know if I was OK. He wanted me to see another specialist ASAP for further testing and treatment.
I then received a call from the electrophysiology specialist who had received the results. He agreed to see me the following day.
I drove several hours to the hospital and was carted in to an operating room where they inserted 6 lines - 3 up each groin to the heart. I was pumped full of an adrenaline-like drug that had me shaking like a leaf. They paced my heart at 200+ with one of the internal electrodes and got me in to 'that' rhythm where I felt all of the symptoms that I had complained about.
While the weird rhythm was going they mapped out the electrical paths and using an electrical current, burnt out the section of the heart muscle that was conducting the short circuit. They called this an 'ablation' procedure.
It turned out I had been slipping in to V-Tach during strenuous exercise and that is what was causing my symptoms.
I did not have a heart attack nor do I have clogged coronaries. It was an electrical disorder... one that could have been fatal during any of the events I had experienced.
The doc said I was likely born with it. My mother had a history of a similar disturbance.
My goal in sharing this experience is to get people to see their doc if they experience any sort of symptoms like mine. Don't take "NO" for an answer. Stick to your guns and demand proper diagnostics and treatment. There have likely been too many "heart attacks" that could have been prevented had the victims sought early treatment.
Being that this is a blog for those over 50, I feel comfortable advising that this is not a good time to 'tough it out' when you don't feel right.
In this day and age of ever increasing health care costs and ever decreasing reimbursements from insurance companies, it's all too common for patients to be dismissed by docs with an eye on containing costs. It is up to us to demand the care which we need and deserve.
The life it saves could be your own...