Back in September, on a very early Monday morning I decided to go the emergency room for possible heart problems. I felt it was probably just a waste of a fairly large chunk of money ($1424 for labs, EKG, physician, x-ray), but if it wasn’t, I didn’t want to kill myself, I should just go in and be evaluated. That’s how I think now at this age (is this likely to kill me?).
I don’t know if you know the reasons women are supposed to go in, but they are pretty sketchy; dizziness, nausea, upper-back pain, anxiousness, prolonged palpitations, sweaty-ness and then the same things that men have; chest pain …. Well I’d had dizziness (but I have inner ear vertigo sometimes in the fall/winter), some nausea (but when I have vertigo I get a little sick to my stomach), sweat (yippee, I’m still in the zone of hot flashes), prolonged heart palpitations (this is the one that decided me) and anxiousness (well the prolonged palpitations plus the lack of sureness about the other symptoms did make me anxious enough to decide to go to the hospital).
So I drove in (yes, I know experts say call an ambulance, but really I couldn’t tolerate the excitement). And I spent several hours getting tested.
Surprised, nope, absolutely nothing showed up as abnormal in the tests. But, I know what I was experiencing wasn’t normal for me. The ER doctor offered me a prescription for beta-blockers, that didn’t make sense to me as I didn’t have high blood pressure (110/74) and my resting pulse is 60 to 66 so I declined. They also gave me a handout for lifestyle changes and wanted me to contact my regular physician for a visit. Yah, yah, yes, agree, let me leave.
Things that seem to drive heart arrythmia or electrical problems (palpitations or fibrillation=rate 110-350) are: smoking, caffeine, alcohol, salt, stress, inadequate sleep, inflammation (overweight, inflammatory foods – like Omega 6 fats, sugar, corn-fed meats), inadequate or excessive exercise, hyper-thyroid, anemias (iron and/or B12) and chocolate and/or other heart issues.
I am overweight (as is most of America) and I like some coffee and chocolate and some salty things and my exercise plan had waned a bit (I’d had a series of injuries – ankle, knee, foot and these made it easy to skip workouts), I eat many healthy but goiter-causing hypothyroid, but not hyperthyroid, foods (collards, broccoli) and am mostly vegetarian (so B12 [anemia] possible low normal). My part-time job as a proofreader is stressful because of the perfection rush, and having hot flashes and palpitations interferes with good sleep (no kidding).
So I increased exercise walking daily, joined a two times a week weight lifting course offered by UW-Extension called Strong Women – which was great but made some muscles in my chest sore (?chest pain anyone), went decaffeinated (or at least tried to), reduced salt from an already low salt diet, gave up most of my chocolate, added Brazil nuts for selenium (protection for my thyroid) and still had palpitations that woke me up, often nightly. But they were a lot less than what I’d had for the several days before I went to the ER.
This went on for several months, as did the reminder calls from the local hospital/clinic that I was supposed to make an appointment with my provider. Yes, yes, I have a HSA with high deductible health insurance and so I dislike spending my healthcare dollars on useless (?) visits. Mostly palpitations are benign. Plus, over and over again lifestyle changes trump medication as far as real effectiveness in resolving a problem instead of just treating symptoms and giving you side-effects (I know there are exceptions; antibiotics, vaccines, and several others).
So I endeavored to follow a much more focused healthy lifestyle. The extremely cold weather and snow didn’t help much, but I persisted.
Well, things were going along (I have a whole bunch of decaff/herbal teas that I ended up not being able to tolerate – need some?) until I had a whole rash of palpitations despite my continued care for following a healthy program, so I finally scheduled a provider visit, which happened a week later when there were no symptoms.
More tests (labs were normal – below 200 cholesterol, good HDL, LDL) I agreed to wearing an EKG monitor for two weeks. More sleep disruption with box and cords hanging off me. Push the button and it records whatever is happening to your heart. Get three recordings and dial-up the nurses to send them (usually at 3:45 am) and then they ask you “What were you doing when you made the recordings? (sleeping) Any symptoms? (fast, hard heartbeats) How are you feeling now? (fine) We received the recordings, there is no reason to contact your doctor.”
My most difficult thing was avoiding caffeine as decaffeinated isn’t really caffeine-free and I also seem to react to artificial/natural flavors so lots of things were eliminated. Lots of things, like stuff with natural vanilla flavor isn’t really vanilla, nor is anything that says natural _____whatever flavor. If the flavor was real it would just say the ingredient vanilla or honey or ginger on the label. I liked the taste of Celestial Seasonings herbal vanilla honey chamomile, but couldn’t tolerate it because of the “natural honey and vanilla flavoring.”
Recently studies confirmed that avoiding artificial flavors/colors (note ‘natural flavor’ is not real) is more effective than medication in helping ADD and since I felt jittery and felt better if I was moving (couldn’t get comfortable sitting/lying still) I figured maybe I was reacting just like the kids did. This was mid-monitoring when over and over there was nothing to report on my heart rhythm per the called up nurse.
Eliminating artificial and ‘natural ___ flavoring’ removes a whole lot of processed foods – almost all of them. Just take a look at the labels. Even Real Mayonnaise has ‘natural flavoring’ added. Eh, I like to cook, just get the real item basics and skip the rest. Seems difficult? Not so much, at least not at home.
Beverages are a problem: There’s water and milk, but I don’t like milk. Juices are made from cooked down concentrate re-colored naturally and re-flavored naturally to make them look and taste good again – the whole fruit is better anyway. There’s plain soy, rice and almond milk, which are OK in small quantities.
The teas I like and are really caffeine free and only contain real mint and chamomile are Bigelow herbal mint and herbal chamomile. I put 12 cups of water in the coffee pot, put three tea bags (2 camomile and one mint) and brew it and leave it out. Hot I add some honey, but room temp I drink it plain. My homegrown mint, which I only dried a small amount of because I didn’t have a use for it then, is much more flavorful and better than the bagged tea mint. This year, now that I know I’ll want it, I’ll dry much more. That goes for all my herbs.
Then salt … well salt is added to lots of things in amounts that are surprising – bagels with over 300 mg per each, tortillas with 310 mg each and then all the pork and chicken with added salt (broth for flavor). I don’t each much meat, but now really not.
Calcium supplements have also been connected with heart rhythm problems esp. anything over 500 mg., remember high school chemistry? Ca++, sodium, potassium? Electrolytes that need to be balanced for proper muscle function? The heart is a muscle.
So I did all the things you do to avoid heart burn/acid stomach without using calcium (Tums or other product); raised the mattress at the head of the bed, quit eating by 8pm, avoided overeating even really good stuff – stopping when almost satisfied, used plain almonds, apple, lemon water as tools to settle acid excess. I put a little baggy of almonds in my bed drawer, in my jacket pocket and a plastic container of them in the car so I’d have them if I needed them. They work and eating the right amount of food at meals to keep me feeling good is a great side-effect.
I recorded and recorded and wrote my patient diary about my palpitations. I had three different times when my ‘palpitations’ or whatever were really worrisome to me and each time the Life Watch nurse said the electrodes weren’t connected (but I think they were – maybe). The second time this happened into ER I went, with the same result as the first time. Perfectly normal EKG, nice blood pressure, great pulse and more detailed handouts on palpitations, fibrillation and lifestyle interventions. I liked this ER doctor very well, she was reassuring and helpful with information – adding more details (I like details because then I can make better decisions). She said that if she had a heart problem she’d rather it be electrical than clogged. Well OK then.
The third time I awoke wondering ? V-tach?, hit the button to record, dialed in the recording, they said bad connection, I had new electrodes on, hmm I decided, whatever, since I felt fine and never really had any other symptoms and they, obviously weren’t able to tell me anything. I peeled the electrodes off and put the monitor in the mailer ($1100 worth of monitoring). The result – normal.
So whatever is going on is not bad enough to find by the current system. There are multiple studies that show that too much contact with the healthcare system is bad for your health. As a previous member of the system, I know it’s true – the third (maybe second) biggest cause of mortality and morbidity is iatrogenic (caused by the system – medications, infections or other interventions).
Now – and these are not for you because you may be having a heart attack, but knowing what I know, I add to the list of warning signs 5-minutes of nausea (not caused by vertigo or bad cooking), same for dizziness, sweat that doesn’t build like a hot flash does or become cold just because it’s 40 below windchill out, chest pain sitting in a chair not caused by too many tree-hugger moves weight lifting, palpitations that don’t go away as soon as you get in the car or see a doctor.
I don’t want whatever is going on to progress, and keeping on doing the same things gets the same results. So I tried to quit my stressful part-time job (I’d learned what I could from it – it was a good run, yah, yah so I’m still helping them) the stress from it was no longer worth the minor paycheck. I added vit B12 since I’m even more vegetarian than before. I added some Vinyasa yoga practice, which I am liking immensely, other than certain body areas that don’t particularly want flexibility. I quit recording or timing any palpitations (except for unusual quantities of them, which occur on a 4-week cycle, hmm) I felt I had given them enough attention so I covered the night-light clock and if I wake up with palpitations I go right to yoga breathing which resolves them if they haven’t already resolved.
The other day when I declined a friendly offer of wine (alcohol) and reminded my friends I was a no alcohol, no caffeine. low salt. no chocolate (because you do need others help to make it so – unless you become a hermit).
Asked by a new acquaintance what I did for fun. Do you think she was dissing me? I think she was, but I pretended it was a real question and I started to list, but a different friend did it for me – play guitar, artwork, play with dogs, horses, sing … OK so maybe my embrace of healthful practices is irritating. (I worked with a big guy who was a serious weightlifter, now he was irritating. Nothing was important enough to interfere with his eating and weight lifting schedule. He had to eat at certain times, certain foods and when we went to a restaurant young teen boys would follow him and he’d ignore them. It was funny and irritating.)
And that’s the thing. It isn’t about the restrictions, it’s about finding things I like to have instead and making those available and easy. It’s about being healthier and following my body’s feedback. It told me I needed to change what I was doing. I’m stronger, resolved some things I didn’t know could be fixed and feel better than I did, but I also feel less invulnerable and that’s a good thing, because I can make changes now and not have to hit some sort of ‘bottom, bad zone’ and need major healthcare intervention before doing them.
I’ve gotten rid of things that weren’t good for me, tried blends of real things, planned more to do in my garden and read more labels than I have in years. I learned a bunch just because I needed to. I also wondered if some major change happened in the food industry and I’m just one of the canaries.
Grocery shopping is definitely faster since there are so few reasons to go into any aisles, convenience stores are not really convenient – although KwikTrip has real bananas, onions, potatoes, fruit, herbal tea… it’s my gas station of choice. M & M’s have gone by the roadside. And yah, the Wisconsin brewery tour is not on my list of ‘gotta do it.’
I hope my litany of stuff is helpful to you if you’re dealing with any of the same worries. All the best to you, be well.
Related articles: www.webmd.com/heart-disease/rm-quiz-heart-disease-myths