Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Echo! (echo, echo, echo...)

This morning I had my first echocardiogram.

I'm 35 years old. I weigh about 135 and I'm 5'6. I'm not a smoker, I have maybe 1-2 drinks a week, and I don't use any drugs or take any medications on a daily basis. I workout, I eat pretty healthy. And I'm not one to put off getting things checked out when something strange is going on with my body, as you've probably figured out by now, if you've been reading my blog for any significant length of time!

So why did I need the echo?

For pretty much as long as I can remember, I've occasionally had a strange "fluttering" heartbeat. After I first noticed it, I would only feel it once in a long while, to the point where I thought nothing of it. Everyone's heart skips a beat once in awhile; no big deal.

This past year, I've been noticing that the flutters were happening more often. When it happened, it was more noticeable. Lately, it happens at least once a day, and some of them are uncomfortable. It was starting to freak me out (and understandably so).

While this has been going on, I've had a few other strange things happen. I never really thought they were connected, until recently.

Back in summer of '07, I completed the Danskin women's triathlon, my first one (and maybe last one) ever. I'm NOT a super fit athlete by any means, and I'll be the first to admit that the triathlon was very challenging for me, but I was able to complete it and felt super proud for having accomplished that. During the 12-mile bike ride portion of the tri, I got very light-headed very quickly, and nearly passed out. At the time, I chalked it up to dehydration as it was 95-degrees the day of the triathlon with full sun and a stiff hot wind. I ended up completing the tri without any further incident, and didn't think too much about it after that.

Then last summer, in August of '08, I did a women's fitness boot camp with some friends early one Saturday morning. It was a bit humid and muggy, but not hot. I had eaten a decent breakfast beforehand, and made sure I was drinking LOTS of water, having heard that this boot camp was an ass-kicker. I made it through the first 45 minutes without much trouble, and then - all of a sudden - I got super light-headed again and almost passed out. I even managed to freak out the organizer of the boot camp, who suggested I talk to my doctor about that. I was horribly embarrassed, but once again, I was fine within a few minutes and didn't think much of it.

Before I hurt my foot in that unfortunate tumble down my back stairs this past February, I had been working out at my gym one morning, doing a standard workout that included walking/running intervals on the treadmill for a half-hour and another half-hour on the elliptical, plus some ab exercises. At no point did I feel light-headed or physically off, but when I looked through the stats on my heart rate monitor, I nearly fell over when I saw that my peak heart rate for the workout was 220. TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY! Obviously NOT normal. At all.

Thankfully, that last incident happened roughly a week before my annual physical with my internist. At that appointment, I talked to my doctor about the strange "flutters" in my heartbeat, and about the near-fainting episodes, and finally the crazy-high peak heart rate I had while working out. She said it all sounded like something called "SVT" or "supraventricular tachycardia" to her.

I'm not a doctor but, in a nutshell, here's a little lay information about SVT. It's a temporary rapid heartbeat caused by a faulty electrical impulse in the heart muscle of the atria or AV node. The rapid heartbeat comes on suddenly, can last anywhere from a few seconds to one to two days, and usually goes away without treatment. Because this rapid heartbeat can be quite fast, it makes the heart's pumping of blood very ineffective, which results in a sudden drop in blood pressure, light-headedness, dizziness and sometimes a loss of consciousness. It's often treated with prescription medications called beta blockers, or it can be resolved using radio frequency ablation or cryoablation (destroying the faulty electrical pathway in the muscle where the misfire is occurring). It's generally not life-threatening, and is actually fairly common.

In my case, the episodes of heart "fluttering" last only a few seconds each, but as I said earlier, they've been happening every day lately, and sometimes multiple times a day. When it happens during normal daily activities, it doesn't make me pass out or get light-headed or anything, but it's just very... uncomfortable. When it happens when I'm working out or doing something involving physical exertion, that's when I almost pass out and I get very light-headed, and it happens in an instant - there is no "build-up." One second I'm fine, and the next I'm struggling to remain conscious.

Because of all of that, my internist wanted me to have an echocardiogram done. For those of you who have never had one or don't know what it is, it's basically an ultrasound of the heart. It's quick and painless, done on an outpatient basis, much like having a fetal ultrasound done during pregnancy - only not nearly as exciting. :)

I went in for the echo this morning. First the technician hooked up a few EKG nodes to measure the electrical activity of my heart, and then she used the ultrasound wand to take a "look" at my heart. The procedure literally took about 20 minutes, and the technician "looked" at my heart from a few different angles: head-on so to speak (right over my heart), through the ribs of my left side, from the perspective of my diaphragm, and then she also looked at my aorta, both in the area of my abdomen and at my neck.

I watched the whole thing on the screen, but of course none of it made any sense to me! She took a lot of measurements, and she turned the sound on a few times to record the sounds of my blood whooshing through each of the chambers. That was quite interesting because the sound is different in each chamber, because the flow is different. The sounds were like video game special effects; I think my little boy would've enjoyed hearing them! Again, I have no idea if the sounds were "normal," but the fact that I wasn't rushed in for emergency heart surgery midway through was probably a good sign. (Then again, what the hell do I know?)

It was all pretty benign from my end of things, but it was a little frustrating not being able to get answers right away. The technician is not allowed to say anything about what she's seeing during the procedure; I have to wait for the cardiologist to read it and get the results to my doctor, and then wait for my doctor to read them and get back to me. This could be tomorrow, or it could be Friday. (It better not be any later than that, or I'm camping out on my doctor's front lawn until she tells me what I'm dealing with!)

Once I have this whole heart mess straightened out, I think I'll be rescheduling the HSG I had to cancel back in February due to the notorious tumble down the back stairs. I can't take it anymore - I'm having such bad baby-cravings that it's making me an emotional mess, and that's not good for anyone. Trust me on that.

So, that's what I did today; how about you?

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