Thursday, July 13, 2006

My heart attempts an uprising; and wins!

Good news: a have a heart condition which feels like having a heart attack and can last for hours but doesn’t damage the heart. Wait a minute, how is that good news?

Yesterday the Doctor said that my Holter heart test found I have a condition called PAT. There are a whole bunch of different types of PAT and the doctor probably covered the exact one, except I missed it because I was just saying to myself over and over, “They found it.”

It goes like this: I am a healthy person with a healthy heart. BUT...there is a thing called an AV node in the upper chamber which tells the heart when to pump (because the chambers are full of blood). I, however, have a rogue section of tissue which starts beating at a much, much higher rate and actually hijacks (Heartjacks?) the heart. This takes my heart from a resting rate of 65-75 to over 250 (or in extreme cases even higher). As this is actually far ABOVE my “maximum” heart rate, it can cause extreme chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitations (also nausea, and passing out). It can also stop and start again for hours. But, except for the pain and lying there afterward feeling like you got hit by a truck, once it stops, your heart is perfectly fine. There are two exceptions, because such a rapid heart beat may not allow the heart to fully fill with blood if it continues over a long period of time (more than four hours) the heart may begin to fail. Or, sometimes combined with prolonged high Cardio exercise (like say EPEE!), it can beat so fast (over 400 beats per minute) that the heart doesn’t pump blood at all. I really, really don’t want to think about what having my heart beat 400 times a minute would feel like.

According to Cardiologist Michael Crawford, “studies show that PAT strikes hard-driving, Type A personalities… PAT can strike--especially if you take your playing too seriously and are up against stiff competition.” Would that include female epeeists in their 30’s who plan to win against younger faster opponents by obsessive training and a determination to push themselves to the limit again and again? It would?

There are three treatments: 1) Take the pain and if it lasts longer than 15 minutes, go to the ER for a drug to slow down the heart or in extreme cases, be shocked by the paddles (oh yeah, while you are awake). 2) Take beta blockers which will slow down the heart. The downside is chronic fatigue and lethargy. 3) Have a heart catheter where your heart is mapped and a long catheter inserted into your heart to burn out the tissue sending the wrong messages. Problem: YUCK!

The heart catheter works MOST of the time, however it seems less effective on people who continue to be competitive athletically. One cyclist had it done four times and still gets attacks.

Does this mean I am stopping Epee? No. I am fencing tomorrow, 100%. And I still plan to compete this fall, including going to North Carolina to the Iron Maiden Competition. Actually I am still trying to wrap my head around excruciating & debilitating heart pains which DOESN’T hurt you? I am guessing the “It’s only one organ in my body, how important can it be” plan isn’t going to work.

The “take the pain” option looked appealing until I remember I might have to forfeit a tournament because I am rolling around on the floor holding my chest. But hey, I’m so competitive, parts of my heart are trying to take over independently.
I want to thank everyone who left messages for me on the blog or sent email. I am not very good at knowing what to do with concern. It somehow implies that I am mortal (which we all know is a LIE!).

For now, I am just filing this under “God hates you.” A heart that makes you feel like you are dying or want to die equals healthy heart. Tell me that isn’t a cosmic joke?

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13 comments:

elizabeth said...

This is great news! (I think) It still doesn't sound like much fun but it sounds like you've wrapped your head around it well and are dealing with it. Glad to hear this. Now go kick some epee ass.

funchilde said...

whoa. i'm glad you are well (??). I have no idea which of the three solutions I'd try, but most likely I'd take the pain. Anyway, I guess we can't really say "fence your little heart out" b/c that would be kind of strange...

Wendryn said...

I'm glad it isn't anything more serious and that you seem to have a handle on it. Beta blockers suck, by the way - I decided not to go on them because they take away your pilot's license if you are on them. The side effects are worse than the original problem. Blech.

Enjoy fencing!

Elizabeth McClung said...

I really have to wait and see how many attacks I have - right now it is about one "big" attack of more than an hour at about once every 10 days and then smaller attacks lasting seconds to minutes daily or every other day.

It is a very odd experience feeling something you KNOW is bad (like your heart ripping apart) and then gasping out, "This isn't killing me, I know this isn't killing me!" To me this situation is like a doctor saying, "Yes, blood will pour out of your eyes, ears, nose and under your fingernails off and on, but there's nothing really bad about that." - - Huh?

Right now beta blockers sound like the eqivilant of a voluntary lobotomy (hmmm, lethargy? Sounds good to me!). There are some tricks that work on some types of PAT like plunging your head into ice cold water to make your body think you are drowning to slow down the heart rate.

The other thing is right now it is sort of like having someone hold a gun to me head going "Exercise" - because, yes I have a fab healthy heart because I exercise so much - what happens if I stop exercising, buy a big bag of cheetos, watch TV and then once my arteries are good and clogged, then have these attacks?

Faith said...

I'm glad you're not dying!!!!

Perhaps another option (that you may or may not have considered) is cutting back just a wee little bit on the fiercely competitive fencing and maybe take a bit of meditation in the evening before bed.

It's somewhere between what you're doing now and rubbing Cheeto powder all over your body...

Just a thought.

Karen said...

Yay!!!!!! When you come to NC, you simply MUST call me so we can fence! (However, I'm not sure that's the tournament I would recommend travelling so far for.)

I'm so glad you're ok. I'm having my knee surgery tomorrow, so I'll be ok with you soon enough!

Sober @ Sundown said...

I hope you can find a solution that works for your active lifestyle. It would certainly be hard to give up fencing. Is there anyway you could mix and match a little of several treatments?

Anonymous said...

don't you just hate it when the body parts rebel

kathy wc

Wiccachicky said...

Well, the plus here is at least you know what you're dealing with rather than before when it was all unknown. Now it's a process of figuring out how to cope instead of just waiting in the dark for things to happen again.

GayProf said...

I am glad that it is better news than it have been. Still, I hope that you feel better! Is this a genetic condition? If so, be sure to use it to guilt your parents.

kathz said...

You are Superwoman.

If you are not Superwoman, you should be.

I hope whatever path you choose works out well for you.

(from an internet room in Scotland)

ggibson said...

FINALLY! someone else has this problem other than me. I was given this lovely problem at the age of 9 (I am now 32) I chose the "live with the pain" option after many years of medication and studies. Just alittle advise....stand on your head during an attack. SERIOUSLY!!! The upside down aspect of it will have your heart converted to a regular beat in no time flat. Trust me...after MANY years of trial and error...this one works EVERY time and FAST too!!! Give it a shot....it will work trust me! Good luck

heartandsoul said...

I've been dealing w/PAT for 45 yrs. (don't do the math!)and have been on a beta blocker for 3 yrs. and haven't experienced any side effects that have changed my lifestyle. Perhaps the medication has helped with the frequency of PAT... but it's hard to say since stress appears to be the ongoing instigator. I've never suffered any pain or fainting from PAT (just annoyance) and was told that unless these symptoms occur, I shouldn't stress out about it... i.e. stress begets more stress. Bearing down and holding my breath works best for me. Good luck!