Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From the Heart

I admit it - I'm a superficial blogger. I've watched with both admiration and consternation as my blogger friends offer intimate glimpses into their lives. Sometimes I've thought about sharing more intimate details, but I'm always held back by the "what ifs." Today's topic is one of those: "what if someday I'm job hunting, and my future employer finds this, and decides I'm too high risk to hire?"

No, this isn't about some wild crime spree or deviant behavior. It's about something potentially worse in an employer's (or their insurer's) mind - health. Yet I know that this story needs to be told, because there are others out there with similar circumstances, who need to hear they aren't alone.

You might recall my prior heart story. A really brief synopsis for those of you who don't want to go back to read it - I had some strange symptoms, for a period of five years or more these were diagnosed and treated as anxiety, turned out I had a hole in my heart.

Foremost among my strange symptoms was a racing, irregular heartbeat that most often occurred around 2AM, often waking me from a sound sleep. My heart rate was often over 150 (this is while lying in bed) and it felt like a psychotic, tap dancing Tasmanian Devil with really bad rhythm was inside my chest.

I now know that this was atrial fibrillation (A-fib for short). If you want more information on this condition, I highly recommend this wonderful website. If you don't, here's the short version: A-fib is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. The only for-sure way to diagnose it is with an EKG. The older you get, the greater your chances of having a-fib. It impacts your quality of life, and it increases your risk of stroke. You can 'have' a-fib without having a heart defect or any other form of heart disease.

I have paroxysmal (some of the time) A-fib. This A-fib can be elusive and rarely seems to occur when there happens to be an EKG machine nearby. But if you have a racing heart for no reason, and the rhythm is irregular, it might be a-fib. To find it, doctor's first have to test for it.

If you are a younger woman, in my experience there is a good chance of getting an anxiety, panic attack, depression, or hormonal disturbance diagnosis without any testing when you complain of a racing, irregular heartbeat. A-fib certainly causes anxiety, and it can also cause depression, and it can be related to hormonal imbalances. In some people anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications can lessen the frequency of a-fib episodes; thus appearing to support the depression/anxiety diagnosis.

A Holter monitor is a non-invasive, relatively inexpensive test. While many report that their symptoms seem to perversely disappear every time they wear a Holter, it does provide successful diagnosis for others. It seems to me a Holter should be an obvious test choice when someone is complaining of a racing heart and irregular rhythm, despite their age or gender.

Why am I telling you this? Because in my case, earlier diagnosis might have led to less enlargement of my atria, and therefore less predisposition to continuing a-fib. Yes, even though my heart defect has been repaired, I still have the a-fib.

More on what it feels like to live with a-fib next post.....

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