Palpitations can be very scary, I know. I have first-hand experience and I wanted to share with you my personal story.
I was a fit and healthy 43-year-old, a regular runner, healthy eater and was easily managing and training for half marathons. I was training hard for my next race under the training guidance of my sister in law who is a professional triathlete and an international trainer.
I set out for one of my usual long runs. 1 kilometre in and suddenly I felt dreadful. I was significantly breathless, my heart was pounding, and I honestly didn’t know how I was even going to walk home. I am lucky, in that I have 27 years’ experience within cardiology, and I had equipment at home that I could attach myself to, a monitor where I could see that I was in a rhythm called ventricular bigeminy. This meant that every other beat from my heart was abnormal. People often refer to these extra beats as palpitations. I stayed in this rhythm for hours, I could feel every extra beat and it was very uncomfortable and worrying.
Family history of heart problems
I have a family history of heart problems, not palpitations but coronary artery disease. My knowledge of cardiology made me very aware that this could be a sign and that all my family members who had suffered from coronary artery disease had done so at a young age. I’m a positive and rational person and in the absence of any other symptoms, I persuaded myself that this was not the cause and it would settle.
Heart problems not resolving themselves
Unfortunately, this was not the case and two weeks later I was still in bigeminy. I had had very little sleep due to the fact I was so symptomatic to every extra beat, and I had to completely stop all my exercise due to how unwell I felt. I even found my daily 1-mile speed walk to work and home again almost impossible. It was now taking me over 30 minutes to walk the short distance to work. I was a bit of a coffee addict so I stopped that in the hope that it would help, not that I drank much but all alcohol was stopped but to no avail. I had googled every possible cause, could I have had a virus and been unaware?
I’d not felt unwell, not even a cold, I had a blood test for Covid-19 antibodies, that came back negative, so I quickly ruled that out. It was significantly impacting my life now, despite all my Cardiology knowledge and experience I had convinced myself that this was it and it was obviously going to end with my demise, that I would go to sleep and end up having a fatal heart arrhythmia!
Consulting a heart scan specialist
I had consulted my colleague’s, talking non-stop about it. I had performed a heart scan (echocardiogram) on myself, my heart function looked impaired, however as a long-distance runner that can be normal. Eventually I spoke to one of the Cardiologists at work, I wore a 24-hour ECG monitor, had a formal heart scan performed by one of my colleagues, broad spectrum blood tests and a treadmill test. All they showed was that I was in this abnormal bigeminy rhythm. To take things further and start medication I needed a GP referral, this seemed like a backward step seeing as I worked in a hospital at the time, but despite being surrounded by medic’s, specific processes needed to be completed, even if we had done it backwards.
Speak to your GP about heart health problems
I managed to get a telephone appointment with my GP who was brilliant, she was grateful that I ‘had saved her a job’ and had all the tests, got the results, had a plan and I just needed a referral to my Cardiologist. Having looked at all the options with medication, I opted to start with beta blockers, something we did with caution as I am asthmatic. Beta blockers aren’t recommended if you have asthma, but the other drugs recommended can have horrible side effects that I wasn’t willing to risk. I ended up on a huge dose before my heart returned to a normal rhythm; I had been in bigeminy rhythm now for 7 weeks and it had been exhausting! I carried on taking my medication for about 4 months, eventually slowly reducing the dose because it had begun to affect my asthma, eventually stopping them.
For a while I would have short periods of bigeminy, usually when I was walking, however it had become tolerable. Eventually after a year or so they just stopped.
Causes of heart health problems
I never found a cause, maybe it was hormonal, maybe I had a virus, I will never know. Whatever had started this had a huge impact on my life, having done some form of sport my whole life I had not done any exercise for over a year. I had self-diagnosed many fatal illnesses, I had spent months and months worrying and overthinking what could be wrong with me, despite all my knowledge and training I had found the whole experience exhausting, worrying and at times frightening.
I cannot imagine I am alone in this experience, and I can only imagine what it must be like with no cardiology knowledge or quick access to diagnostic tests to quickly rule out any significant cause, have a diagnosis and start treatment to resolve or alleviate symptoms.
If you are experiencing ANY symptoms you are not sure of, if you have a family history of heart problems, or you just want a scan for your own piece of mind then BOOK an APPOINTMENT with us. Let us give you piece of mind or guide you to the specialist care you need.