Just over a year ago, after wearing a Mobile Cardiac Arrhythmia Diagnostic System (loop monitor) for two weeks, I was diagnosed with Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT). The doctors had been doing a bunch of different tests on my heart at the time because my heart was not beating regularly, and I had a frightening health scare several weeks prior.
This explained the sudden rapid heartbeats that were causing my unusual shortness in breath, and why my heart often jumped from 70 bpm to 230 bpm in a matter of seconds. My heart would literally shift into overdrive without warning, and I felt like I was running a marathon even at rest. (And anyone around me could physically see my heart pumping through my clothes. Scary!)
Although I remember these episodes in high school, they were never as frequent as they had become in my late thirties. I am told they only get worse with age and my lifestyle most likely did not have anything to do with it because I am a non-smoker, eat healthy, and not overweight. It is a mechanical "short circuit" problem.
But surprising to some, I was actually relieved when I found out that I had PSVT because to treat this, cardiologists are able to locate and remove this alternate pathway and prevent this bypass from occurring. I was getting more and more out of breath going up and down stairs and this was very unusual for me, as I was only 39 at the time. Needless to say, I had to get to the bottom of my condition and figure out next steps so I could feel normal again...
What I've learned:
PSVT means there is a short circuit in the heart that bypasses the desired pathway to make blood flow occur normally, which enables the heart to beat excessively fast. Since PSVT results in a significant increase in heart rate beyond what the heart is really designed to do, frequent and prolonged attacks can also cause damage to the heart muscle. In a typical heart attack, there isn't enough blood flow to the heart (supply) due to blockage of the arteries; but in the PSVT heart attack scenario, there is excess demand due to the rapid heart rate, and the body can't supply enough blood flow to meet it. Depending on the amount of damage, this could lead to poor functioning of the heart and eventually heart failure.
Stay tuned for more on my heart journey,
On this last day of Heart Health Month, February 2014, I wanted to share a little bit about why it means so much to me.
It all started on Christmas morning in 2012. I felt a heavy tightness across my chest that I had never felt before. It felt like someone was tightening a belt around my breasts and holding on for dear life. The feeling lasted for two weeks and was so foreign, but I just shrugged it off as normal holiday stress.
After our family returned from a trip to Florida a few weeks later, I started having scary heart-racing episodes 3 to 4 times a week. They would start and stop suddenly for no apparent reason – and it felt like I was running a marathon even at rest. I was also having more headaches than usual, aches and pains in my upper body, shortness of breath going up and down the stairs, and was tired all the time. One morning at work, I even had a panic attack standing in line at the cafeteria. These events were not usual for me because I’m not a smoker and not overweight and have always considered myself a healthy person.
But the next night, as I was putting my kids to bed, I had the most horrific feeling. I got a sharp pain in my right shoulder that shot all the way down my arm. It felt as though someone hit me hard with a baseball bat. Then pain started to trickle around my back so I ran downstairs to where my husband was standing in the kitchen. My arm started to go limp.
Panic-stricken, he asked if he should call an ambulance. But I screamed “No!” because it was my right arm. (Needless to say since then I’ve learned that women can experience different symptoms like pain in their right arms, a feeling of indigestion, or back aches during an attack – but you seldom hear of it.) Then, I had an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. It was only 8 o'clock but if I had of stood there any longer, I would have fallen to the floor.
Looking back I know I should have gone to the hospital that night, but I was in denial. After all, I was only 39 and I had to get the kids to bed, right?!
This is a typical reaction of moms, and women in general, which I've since coined "Supermom Syndrome." It's when we simply do not think about ourselves in times of need.
This was the beginning of my heart health journey and now 13 months later I am happy to report that I am feeling better than ever (except for a torn meniscus in my left knee but that was my own fault during an intense workout. Ouch!).
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about my heart health is that if it can happen to me, then it can happen to anyone. I wasn’t leading a bad life before. I don’t smoke. I'm not obese. I have no history of heart disease in my immediate family, and I don’t have high blood pressure. But I was stressed – and I didn’t realize how much. My body was ready to shut down and I wasn’t ready to listen, until I had to.
This past month I’ve been fortunate to tell my story on various radio and television shows and I hope that my story will inspire others to think about their heart health and take note when their body is telling them to slow down. It’s not easy to do, but it’s very important.
According to a recent Leger survey commissioned by Jamieson Vitamins, only 25 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 25-44 believe they are at risk of heart disease, which is so not the case! In fact, the CANHEART Health Index states that 90 percent of Canadians in this age group are actually in poor cardiovascular health. That's 1 in 5.
It's not just an older person's issue. I'm proof of that.
So there you go, my friends. This is just a snippet of my tale and the self love and healing continues. When I reflect, I truly feel my health scare was a catalyst for what I am doing now: Helping spread the word about being heart aware. After all, the universe does work in mysterious ways and perhaps this is what I was meant to do.
I hope you'll check back for more on what I’m doing to stay on track with my eating, exercise and supplement program; as well as tips on how to lessen the stressors in your life. These are the things that I took for granted before my wake-up call last January and I really want to make sure you think about them in your own lives.
Stay heart aware,
Kerrie Lee Brown is a sought-after health and lifestyle expert. She writes books, blogs and articles and is published all over the world. Kerrie Lee is also a heart-health survivor and has appeared on numerous radio and television shows sharing life-saving tips for women on how to listen to their bodies and slow down. Kerrie Lee is a mom and proud Canadian living in Denver, Colorado.