NOTE: This is a public service blog to all women, particularly those over the age of 60. Get an ECG(some say EKG) and have it on file. Please.
I had been fighting a persistent sinus infection late spring/early summer, 2014. Then in the late summer on a Friday, I went to my doctor for my "exit examination"; meaning I wasn't getting any more medicine and should be feeling great. I didn't, but didn't know why. I asked him about the edema in my lower right leg (foot and ankle). He suggested that I have an ultrasound of my legs the next week to be sure I didn't have a blockage--i.e., clot. Then, as he always does at the end of an exam, he listened to my lungs and heart. After he listened to my heart, he said that my heart sounded different than it had previously. He asked that I come by on Monday for an ECG so he could compare it to the one I had had in March.
Monday after my sporadic appointment with my dermatologist (should be annual in Florida, but I slide), I stopped by to have the ECG. The nurse (I don't want to offend the women in my doctor's office--I don't know if they are nurses or just very skilled technicians) administered the test, told me it was different from my March results. She was very careful not to upset me. I, of course, am clueless because I don't have any adverse symptoms. What is all this fuss? She brings in my doctor who explains to me that I am in afib. So what is that? Somehow my heart has gone awol and has changed its rhythm. At that point, I go outside to get my husband where he is waiting in the car. He needs to learn about this problem while I do. Talk about shock . My husband is more concerned than I am because I feel no untoward symptoms.
My doctor then adjusted my current medications and gave me samples of Eliquis to start taking immediately. He also ordered an Echocardiogram for the next morning before I had the ultrasound of my legs.
My ultrasound revealed no clotting in the veins of my legs. The echocardiogram showed that I have a leakage from my mitral valve and arrythmia in my atria (I think--the upper right of the heart). As my doctor marveled, I still physically have no idea or symptoms about any of this. It truly is the silent killer.
In my future is a visit to a cardiologist. If my heart doesn't re-establish its natural rhythm, I understand they will "zap" me like you see on television with the 2 paddles and electric current. It doesn't look like fun. If that doesn't work, then they will install a pace-maker.
My gp says that women over 70 have a high incidence of this medical condition. He keeps remarking on the fact that I still am not aware of any symptoms. Twenty years ago I would have had a stroke and died on the way to the hospital.
Ironically, my husband and I had discussed things like this. My family has a history of cancer; his has a history of heart problems. So of course, we thought he would be the one with heart problems. But he has been meticulous about his diet and exercise for at least the last 40 years. I'm Southern, so I like gravy and butter--he insists that he is saving my life just by being married to me (I said that since I married him, he was no longer a bachelor and his life span had increased). Sad to say, he is probably the hero.
The reason I'm revealing this information is to alert women over 60 to have an ECG so you have a baseline and then have regular monitoring of your heart's rhythms. Or be fortunate enough to have a doctor like my general practitioner who just happened to catch this for me. He made sure I had a prior ECG on file with which to compare my present heart rhythm.
I don't like revealing personal information, but my gp has told me that my lack of symptoms is not unusual and many people are walking around with this condition without realizing it. Go have an ECG and protect yourself in the future. Please.
ADDENDUM: I have visited my cardiologist of choice, had a stress test, and he has determined that my heart has its "own" rhythm and we won't do anything to change it==that is, no pace maker, no shocking with paddles. Thank goodness. I'm going to wear a heart monitor (holter) for 24 hours this next week so everyone can be sure the arrythymia is consistent and not helter-skelter. Consistency is a good thing even if it's off-beat. And I guess it's a plus that I am oblivious to what's happening. Though that could be said of a lot of things in my life!!! And as a photograph by Kate Dickerson in August, 2014, attests, I look disgustingly healthy, overweight and old, but healthy. And I feel great and hope to for years, taking my blood thinner.
PPS: My gp really wasn't satisfied with my cardiologist's decision, so he referred me to a nationally- acclaimed cardiologist from Orlando who specializes in afib cases and comes to Vero once a month.
I consulted him, went to Orlando for my first hospital stay ever in my life since my birth (nobody can believe that fact), and had a cardioversion. I was back into sinus rhythym and was taking a medicine that prohibited any alcohol. Yum, yum.
Ten days later, my heart reverted to afib. The special specialist dumped me back on my gp. No more medicine proscribing alcohol. (The power of prayer for those of us who like a tipple or two.) I still have no symptoms. My life is now one of checking on my levels (pulse, blood pressure) with my gp's supervision. This could go on for years (one hopes).
NOVEMBER NEWS FLASH: Went to my gp so he can plan my future care--I'm relaxed and confident; after all, he's the one who caught the problem in the beginning. Ta, Da! I'm back into sinus rhythm. This is screwy. This erraticness seems to be my new normal. My gp thinks I can live forever. Hip, hip, hooray!! And I still am clueless about the difference in rhythm. I guess I shouldn't complain! There are definitely worse outcomes.
Editor's note: I have hesitated to post this blog entry because people tend to treat you like Typhoid Mary when they think you have a weakness. I'm not retiring; I'm not pitiful and weak. Mary Agnes and Needle Nicely are under a good doctor's care and here for the long haul. But my message is: If you are over 60 and female, have someone listen to your heart on a regular basis. There are more afib patients walking around healthy than anyone would suspect. But they are potential time-bombs if not being treated.