Cardiac Arrest………..Heart Failure…………
Those two words always sound so terminal.
The terms mean that the heart has stopped beating due to an ‘electrical fault’ with the signals the heart received to instruct it to beat.
Heart of the problem
My race diary for this year was quite busy with races planned every month to the end of the year. However my heart had other ideas!
Two weeks ago it took the decision to stop beating for a number of seconds, on a number of occasions over a 24 hour period. The longest being about ten seconds. Fortunately it started again before I passed out!
Unlike the last two occasions this happened, I was not running at the time. I was pleased that this was not the case as I would certainly have passed out then I guess. Passing out (medically known as ‘syncope’) whilst running is not good, and the previous times had resulted in injury to my shoulders (dislocations) as well as other minor cuts and abrasions. It is also not a good experience for anyone with you, and inevitably results in an ambulance trip to the nearest A and E!
This time, however, I was at home.
Almost three years ago I was fitted with an implantable loop recorder (called a ‘Reveal’) near my heart to record any ‘events’ such as this.
In that time it had reported nothing. Thankfully this time it did pick up these pauses. I spoke to the cardiologist who analysed the data and was instructed to make my way immediately to the hospital. Ten seconds is a long time for your heart to stop and expect it to start again unassisted. At least at the hospital they could monitor it and look at what action to take.
In a previous blog, I had reported that the cardiologist had seen signs of Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). The treatment for this would have slowed my heart down. Without these recent events been recorded that would have been the wrong treatment altogether and may have exacerbated my condition.
It turns out that my condition was due to a slow heart rate (known as ‘Bradycardia’). At rest, when I am fit, my HR can be as low as 42 – 44 beats per minute. However on the day of these events it was lower and in the thirties. Then it would stop altogether.
As a result of all my running and healthy lifestyle, the structure of my heart, the plumbing side, is fit and well. The fault lies with the electrical side, the wiring, which is faulty. This may be a result of genetics (tests are still underway – it takes months to unravel DNA and test for a multitude of conditions that cause this!). Or maybe it may be a result of my excessive exercise routine which has contributed to it over the years…..or a combination of both…..who knows?
Fast forward to today.
I now have a Pacemaker fitted and working in my chest. It opens up a new world for me. I have already noticed that it is working. With the same initial feeling that my HR had dropped suddenly, I knew the PM had prevented it dropping too much and done its job. Maybe it needs an adjustment to the point it does kick in to even avoid feeling like that….time will tell (I have a Pacemaker Clinic appointment in a few weeks).
I am now avidly reading and learning as much as I can about Pacemakers and their operation. There are also a lot of clubs and forums out there that provide helpful information also.
I am a typical runner, and hate not being able to run due to injury.
Having a pacemaker fitted will not stop me from running, and the Cardio physiologist suggested we review and adjust the pacemaker settings at the first meeting in June when I had some information about how it performs whilst exercising. Sounds promising to me.
However I need to rest for a couple of weeks to allow the leads to embed into my heart wall, and ensure I do not pull them out with any vigorous exercise. This would mean that the Cardiologist would have to look to re-affix them setting me back again!
A few points with regard to my return to fitness though that I need to remember:
- Things have changed. I now have a metal box fitted in my chest that controls and regulates my heart. The obsessive / excessive exercise regime I had may have been a contributor to the heart failure…..I will never know. However I realise that I may not be able to return to running excessive distances. I cannot look back, I need to look forward and be grateful that I am still here and I can still run. I am just a general guy who enjoys running and exercise, I am not an elite athlete and I wont lose any money by not running longer distances anymore!
- I am not alone. Before having a pacemaker fitted, I dont think I knew anyone who had one, or who exercised after heart failure or an heart attack. That has now changed, and the number of athletes out there who have had pacemakers fitted or running after major heart surgery are many. There are a few cardiac athletes who meet up locally to run parkrun and other events who I plan to meet up with as soon as I can.
- I am educating myself as much as I can on Pacemaker operation and monitoring so I can ensure the device settings are optimised for what I need when I go to the pacemaker clinic.
Do you know anyone actively running with a pacemaker fitted?
If it has affected you, how did you cope with returning to exercise?