Friday, August 10, 2012

The Heart of the Sue

So. Last month I went to see a cardiologist for the first time in my life.

(Spoiler alert: I'm fine.)

When I was a teenager, I used to get these very brief, very specifically-timed, hormonally-related episodes of tachycardia. Not something to be concerned about, I was told. After I had the kids, this magically went away. Maybe even before I had Soren, but not long before. Since then, it's been replaced by a very occasional fluttery sensation in my chest that is not accompanied by an increased heart rate. I always just assumed it was an atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. Asked my doctor about it and was again told, nothing to worry about. Whenever it happened (always at the same time of the month, though not even every single month), it lasted less than a minute and never caused any pain, shortness of breath or other symptoms that would raise red flags.

So, almost exactly a month ago, when I started feeling it one day, I barely took notice. Then it happened again the same day. And the next day. And the day after that. Every day for a week. Increasing in both frequency and duration. By which point I had definitely noticed. So I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment for an EKG.

I couldn't get in to see her for another 10 days, and my symptoms didn't vary much in that time. In fact, I felt the fluttering the whole time I sat in the waiting room and waited in the exam room. Until the moment the nurse left the room to get the portable EKG machine. Talk about bad timing. I was hooked up for exactly 10 seconds, and of course displayed a textbook sinus rhythm for those 10 seconds. Naturally. While I was talking to the doctor afterward, it started up again, and she listened with her stethoscope but couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary. She sent me for blood work and referred me to a cardiologist.

Blood work: normal.

Got in to see the cardiologist 3 days later. The day before my appointment, the symptoms subsided dramatically. The morning of the appointment, I hadn't felt the fluttering at all. I'd completely cut out caffeine for the past 4 or 5 days, just in case that was an exacerbating factor. So the morning of the appointment, worried that I'd show up to the cardio entirely symptom-free, I chugged a big iced coffee when I dropped Eleri off with A's mom. (Soren was at summer camp.) It didn't have any immediate effect, aside from the "WHEE!" feeling of consuming way more caffeine than usual. This was going to be interesting.

At the cardio's office I waited. And waited. I'd had a 10:30 appointment, but when I had seen neither hide nor hair of the doctor by 11:20 I started worrying that I wouldn't get out of there in time to pick Soren up from camp. (Camp didn't get out until 1:00 but I had no idea how long the appointment would take.) As I started stressing and trying to formulate a plan to get someone over there to pick him up (neither of my designated emergency contacts were available, so that was complicating matters), wouldn't you know it? Flutter-flutter. The doc finally came in at 11:30 and I gave her my history in a caffeinated rush and told her it'shappeningrightnowandIdon'tknowhowlongitwilllast. She sent for the EKG and they hooked me up...just as it started to subside again.

It would have been funny at that point if I hadn't been so frustrated and afraid of looking like some sort of malingerer. To her credit, the doctor didn't dismiss my claims and scheduled me for further testing. Once again, I started feeling it again while we talked, and again, she listened but couldn't hear anything unusual. She told me she really wasn't finding any indication of an arrhythmia and that I could be feeling a deep chest muscle twitching or something. I was to come back in a week and a half for a stress test and echocardiogram.

I got home, googled "What feels like palpitations but isn't?" and was directed to, of all things, an anxiety support message board. Huh. Apparently, anxiety can manifest in about a million different ways, one of which is precisely the fluttery feeling I'd been having. I hadn't been feeling particularly anxious when this whole thing started, but I was for damned sure getting increasingly anxious about the symptoms the longer they went on. Which, logically, would lead to a self-propagating sort of scenario in which anxiety about existing symptoms manifests as...increased symptoms.

So, after two and a half weeks of weirdness, I was more or less back to normal. Very mild symptoms here and there in the time between my first and second appointments with the cardiologist. It came as no great surprise that my echocardiogram and stress test both came back completely normal. (The echo tech did say he detected two very tiny heart murmurs, but they were too small to be of any concern at all.) The doc concluded that, more than likely, my heart is not causing whatever sensation it is that I've been feeling. If I do have an arrhythmia, it's a benign one, and she said if the symptoms come back again, she'd set me up with a portable heart monitor that I could wear and then press a button whenever I felt anything funny.

So that's that! I didn't keep everyone in the loop while this was going on because I didn't want to freak anyone out unnecessarily. But I'm blogging it now to continue my trend of medical public service announcements. ;)


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you got checked out! Remember that sometimes symptoms are very different from person to person and symptoms of women are very different from those of men when it comes to the heart. You are a beautiful, healthy young woman but do not take any chances, either:) My relatives with thyroid trouble also reported heart arrhythmia. Gramma Carrie Ann

Sara said...

I too am so glad you got this checked out! If symptoms persist you should definitely go for a portable heart monitor.