Over the past 20 years, or so, I have had periodic episodes where my heart decides to start periodically skipping beats. I made it in to see a doctor a couple of times when it got particularly bad. They would run a test or two and ultimately tell me that it was normal and not to worry. So, last spring when the latest, and worst, episode started I just ignored it. That is until early November when my pulse would occasionally jump to over 200 bpm when out running (I wear a monitor for training purposes). Initially suspecting an equipment malfunction, I changed batteries and heart rate monitors, but ultimately none of that seemed to be the problem. Nor did it do it every time, at least initially. But eventually it reached the point where I went back to see my doctor, who referred me back to a cardiologist.
Last week I finally got the appointment with the cardiologist, who wanted me to wear a heart event monitor for a couple of weeks prior to my appointment. I got checked out on the monitor, finding that I did not have to wear it except when I anticipated having some kind of ‘event’ to record. This unit only recorded in 45 second blocks, and only two of them before having to upload its data over a phone line. Unfortunately none of our cell phones would work for this, and we do not have a land line. So I ended up taking it to church with me the first time and uploading data.
Then Friday morning I sent it to work with my wife to upload a second pair of ‘events’. The first was shortly after a workout when my pulse dropped below 40 bpm for a short time, and the second was during a 7 mile run that morning, with the pulse briefly spiking up over 200. When Sue uploaded that one, they sent her back home to take another reading, which she did. Seems like something had got their attention. A few hours later I got a call on the phone from my health care provider, who told me I had Atrial Fibrillation and needed to 1) come in and pick up some medication, and 2) quit any strenuous exercise until after my visit with the cardiologist. Yikes!
That visit is still about 2.5 weeks away, so in the mean time I am researching Atrial Fibrillation. What is it, how did I get it, what can be done about it? So far the most useful site I have found describes AF as
AF occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers—called the atria (AY-tree-uh)—to fibrillate. The term “fibrillate” means to contract very fast and irregularly.
In AF, blood pools in the atria. It isn’t pumped completely into the heart’s two lower chambers, called the ventricles (VEN-trih-kuls). As a result, the heart’s upper and lower chambers don’t work together as they should.
So it appears my hearts electrical circuitry is going haywire: that’s a bit disconcerting. There are quite a few possible causes for AF, but the only one that even comes close to being a concern for me deals with caffeine, which I get in abundance: time to cut way back there. Treatment is much more confusing so far. It appears the medication I have been given does noting in particular for AF. It is given to lower the base pulse rate so that when the heart goes into fibrillation it will do so at a lower and less dangerous rate. That seems OK, except that I already have a resting pulse in the low 50’s to upper 40’s. Not sure I want it to get much lower. Another use of this drug is to help with high blood pressure. Mine is low enough already. Not sure I want it any lower. I will need to keep an eye on this for the next few weeks.
AF has two complications: stroke and heart failure. I would say those are complications! At the very least they got my attention. That, and the quick turnaround from my health provider make it clear to me that I really need to be good for a while. I wonder if taking the trash out can be construed as strenuous exercise?
So far I have more questions than answers, but will continue to research and be ready for the visit to the cardiologist. Hopefully I will be able to run again, and not be hindered from hitting the trail this summer. But time, and the old ticker, will tell. Getting old is sure not without its perils! But God is good!