Since about six months after I gave birth to my first daughter I’ve been having the episodes.
Generally, they occur when I am exerting myself, though it is not always extreme exertion. I remember the first time quite clearly. I had my adorably plump baby hoisted on my hip, and I stood abruptly from a stooped position; I’d been reaching down in front of the washing machine to scoop up laundry. Then it started.
I immediately felt light headed, my heart began to race. I found it difficult to get in a full breath, like my chest was constricted; it felt like someone was sitting on it. There was a frog in my throat and my heart beat so hard that I could see and feel it pounding in my chest. I was terrified. I thought I might pass out and die right in my laundry room.
I instinctively coughed due to the pressure in my throat and this reduced the tension slightly so I continued coughing. I had to put my daughter down and take a seat on the couch because I continued to be dizzy. Within a few minutes the intensity of the episode began to die down. My heart was still beating intensely and irregularly fast, but not as badly as it had when the episode began. My throat loosened and the lightheadedness tapered off.
A few minutes more and the only physical sign of the incident having occurred was an intensifying headache and a light, but unable to be ignored, tingling sensation throughout my entire body. The tingling is comparable to the feeling of a pinched nerve, but not nearly as intense. It is like the sensation that you feel when you hit your funny bone, but it lingers, coursing through my entire body for hours after the episode.
What really remained was the fear. The fear that it might happen again. The fear that I might be dying. The fear that I might be weakened over this. But did it compel me to go to the doctor right away to explain it, or to do research on what it might be? Not immediately. No. Against my better judgment I decided to what awhile to see if it happened again first.
It did happen again. Actually, it happened increasingly throughout my daughter’s first year of life, but life at that time was so incredibly consuming that I could not justify a time to schedule myself a doctor’s appointment. I was taking care of my daughter during the day and working 12 hour shifts at night. I hardly ever slept, I wasn’t eating right, and I figured that the heart episodes were simply a result of the stress I was putting on my body while going through this period. *I’ll write more on why I wasn’t sleeping and why I was working so much while I still had a husband at home some other time*
Long story short(er), time passed. I got pregnant with Terra the week of Amara’s first birthday; I was still working too much and sleeping too little, but the episodes decreased during the pregnancy and I moved “make a doctor’s appointment” from my “Do-Soon” list because it seemed like less of a priority. After Terra’s birth the episodes started occurring again with some frequency, but there was so much to adapt to that I found myself too busy to worry about me, especially with Terra’s umbilical hernia issues and the consistent roller coaster of my marriage *I’ll write more about Terra’s umbilical issues in another post*
It was not until 2010 that I began doing research on what might be causing the episodes. Although I’d worked in healthcare and administered EKGs on a daily basis before Terra’s birth, I was terrified of what getting an EKG might reveal to me. I didn’t want to hear that I had some life-altering condition, or that I was dying, or that I would need a new heart. But these same fears pushed me into doing research; I didn’t want to be the woman who had symptoms for several years and never looked into a cause or solution until it was too late.
I wondered more and more…What if there’s something they can do to help me? What if I do need a transplant? What if I’d have gotten on the list in 2007 instead of 2010? This could mean the difference between life and leaving my children. I couldn’t imagine my children growing up without me. I knew that I needed to be healthy, and I could not keep ignoring my episodes.
I did a lot of internet research at first. For reasons that I will discuss in a future entry I was both reluctant and terrified of visiting a doctor at that time. I found out about a lot of scary heart conditions, but the one that seemed most fitting to my situation was called Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT). I was 98% sure that I had this condition, the only problem was that it can mean there are underlying heart conditions or that I simply had PSVT. This calmed me though, and I didn’t go to the doctor until 2012 to inquire about the episodes further.
Earlier this year, after a particularly scary episode, I told my doctor about what had been going on for the past five years. She was appalled at my having waited so long, and got me scheduled for an EKG right away. The results showed some type of sinus arrhythmia. I was scheduled for an echocardiogram, then sent to a cardiologist for further testing and put on a heart monitor for one month (which extended to two months due to several issues with the monitor, and the electrodes, and the intensely warm weather –it was incredibly annoying, this interfered with most of my June and July, but I was determined to get some credible answers).
Did I have an episode to record during that entire monitoring time period? Of course not. I felt nothing during the full two months that I was wearing the monitor. I had fairly intense episodes the day after I sent the monitor back and the week before I got it, but nothing in between.
Today, I met with my cardiologist for the first time since wearing the monitor. Although I never felt an episode occur during June and July, the readings from the monitor, triggered by my rapid change in heart rate, picked up on one significant episode of SVT at some point in July. The episode only lasted for ten seconds, which is why my cardiologist assumes I did not notice it. He figures I may have similar episodes periodically (hence the “P” for paroxysmal in PSVT – meaning, it comes and goes), but that I probably do not notice them unless they last longer.
So…the diagnosis? PSVT. Maybe I should be a cardiologist? 🙂
This is both a good and bad thing. I finally have a cardiologist diagnosed heart condition. It is NOT life threatening and I cannot do anything differently to make it go away. I am to continue handling the episodes in much the same way that I have been, coughing, bearing down, drinking ice water, etc.; these techniques make my heart rhythm decrease and help the symptoms die down.
My cardiologist is concerned though, as I am pregnant and more prone to fainting. I am to see him once more (at least) during my pregnancy to make sure that my episodes aren’t becoming more frequent once I start retaining more fluid (which will constrict the blood flow throughout my body and possibly increase the episode occurrences). I am to take it easy and sit down immediately if I feel lightheaded instead of chancing a short walk to sit in a comfortable place. I can handle that.
If my episodes start occurring on a more regular basis later in the pregnancy I have the option to be on medication to help regulate the PSVT. Both the cardiologist and I would prefer to go without the medications if possible (although they have been used consistently for years now and with no negative effects on in utero babies). I also have the option to stop these occurrences more permanently once postpartum, but it would require getting a catheter put in my heart to regulate my AV Node and I would much rather prefer to not go that route unless absolutely necessary.
My conclusion? Well. I feel a lot better about being certain that I am not dying. It is still scary to have something like this happening, but at least I know how to handle the episodes effectively and I try my hardest to keep them from occurring already so they should not interfere with my life too significantly. It does seem that I have fewer symptoms during pregnancy, and they could increase once more after baby, at which time I would consider medications if the frequency of the PSVT begins to hinder my daily life. Until then, I am happy to have finally gotten a handle on my health and I can stop worrying that I am going to keel over any moment (from this anyway…from stress and fatigue is another story).
And the moral of the story is? Don’t wait! Not that I suffered too greatly for waiting, but had it honestly been something life-threatening I was taking the risk of finding out too late. It’s always good to know what’s going on with your body and how to better manage your health. From here on out I will be taking better care of myself. That starts with sleeping for more than three hours tonight.