OK – this is a whinge! Today my palpitations are driving me nuts! Frustratingly, yesterday I felt on top form. In fact, in the last week I’ve been running again on the road and managed three 20 minute runs plus a Zumba class. So why am I feeling like shit today? SCAD is a funny thing and there seems no rhyme or reason to the ups and downs of my heart’s behaviour. I look at people running and feel a sense of loss for what I could do in the past, but didn’t do often enough, and now of course, I just can’t do it. I would urge anyone who is fit and healthy to exercise now while you still can – make the most of your health and don’t take it for granted because it can disappear in the blink of an eye. Of course, I’m grateful to be as well as I am and not on the mortuary slab, but even so this really pisses me off! I may just put my running shoes on in a bit and see how I get on – walking seems to regulate my heart beat and might improve my grumpy mood too! Thanks for reading – rant over.
A year go, on my fledging blog, I wrote about palpitations and what I did to manage them. I notice that in the SCAD user group (spontaneous coronary artery dissection) lots of people are asking about how to cope so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned in the last twelve months.
- My SCAD is now four years behind me, so every day that goes by, I feel safer. I know that PACS come and go and I don’t pay them the same attention. They are my new normal and to some extent, I’ve accepted this.
- I’ve read a lot about palpitations and it seems that they are very common and according to my GP and specialist, nothing to worry about. Lots of people without heart problems have them, it’s just that us SCADsters are hyper aware of anything to do with our heart.
- Occasionally I do panic a bit. When this happens, I aim to distract myself. Sadly at bedtime, this is hard to do, as your thoughts are magnified and you can over focus on your heartbeat. I have a pile of magazines by my bed to flick through – easier than trying to concentrate on my book.
- I eat to keep my blood sugar stable, as dips seem to set them off – especially getting hungry and missing a meal. This means avoiding simple carbs: white bread, cakes, pastries, alcohol, chocolate, pasta which cause a sharp rise in blood sugar followed by a crash. I’m no saint and love all these things, but keep them for occasions, and not for every day.
- I love chocolate, so have a strip of 85% cocoa Green & Blacks right after my evening meal so there is protein in my stomach too.
- I aim to have protein, complex carbs and good fats at every meal.
- Planning my menus each week avoids relying on a quick fix carb heavy meal.
- I exercise to raise my heart beat – Zumba and regular walking for a few miles at a time. I couldn’t maintain the running because it aggravated the PACS.
- I practice Yoga to help with relaxation.
- I have a set bedtime relaxation routine which includes reading for an hour before sleep.
- I take comfort in knowing that palpitations are common at menopause, so now I’m almost 54, it can’t be forever!
- Sally Bee is my role model – she’s a SCADster and looks fabulously healthy on ITV’s Lorraine.
- Finally, I’m not letting it rule my life. In the last year I’ve flown long haul, had food poisoning (was terrified that vomiting would kill me) and agreed to be chairman of a registered charity which will involve public speaking.
If you are getting palpitations for the first time, then of course check with your GP, but once you’ve been checked over and told you just have to get on with it, then maybe the above will help.
Last night I was one of the lucky people invited to the launch party for the new Chester branch of Holland & Barrett which has moved down the road to the spot that Waitrose occupied. It’s a huge store with so much choice that it’s hard to know where to start.
The store showcases the ever growing Free From range of foods which are fab for anyone with allergies or food intolerances. Luckily I don’t have this to contend with, but as readers of my blog will know, my number one focus is looking after my heart and trying to find ways of minimising my premature atrial contractions, so I’m researching foods that will keep my blood sugar stable throughout the day. The sugar free foods are of great interest as are the different types of grains on offer.
I was motivated and inspired to hear how important it is to H&B to extend their Free From offering because the people behind it really care.
I had a good wander round the shop and see that there are some really fun things to do, like make your own scrubs (right up my aromatherapy street!) and get fresh juices made to go. Everything is beautifully presented so it will be a joy to shop there.
It was great to meet some other bloggers and some of the Free From food suppliers. Always good to chat with some like minded people!
It started out as a fairly normal day, pulling up a few weeds in the garden. Steve my husband was at work and I was enjoying pottering about on my own. I’d just pulled out some mint that had strayed out of the border when I felt a weird sensation of pressure on my chest and tingling down my arms. ‘That doesn’t feel right’ I thought, and a wave of nausea washed over me. There was no pain so I wasn’t actually panicking, but I thought it was so unusual, I’d take my BP. The systolic was over 200 so I thought ‘better call the GP’. As I was on the phone, I experienced a feeling of dread which I guess was my gut instinct telling me this was serious, so when my GP said she was calling me an ambulance I wasn’t really surprised. I called Steve in tears and he said he was on his way home, a 40 minute drive.
I should say at this stage I was fairly sure it was a heart attack for two reasons.
1. My mum, who had died seven months earlier, was a nurse on coronary care in the Wrexham Maelor for 40 odd years, so as kids, we had been told stories of heart attacks, what happened, how people survived and that people of all ages were affected. My mum reckoned she could ‘smell’ a heart attack with all her years of experience. Where was she now when I needed her?
2. I’d read an article in Woman & Home a week earlier about a woman, Elaine Kingett, who said her heart attack felt like a small dog sitting on her chest. Well, so did mine!
Anyway, the ambulance arrived swiftly and the first thing I did was burst into tears. The very kind paramedic said she thought I was probably having a panic attack, but having experienced these for years, I knew this was different. An ECG performed at home was normal but they took me in as a precaution. By this time, my panicking husband had arrived home!
My next ECG in A&E was ‘inconclusive’ and they sent off my bloods for analysis. A rather rude young doctor was advising me it was probably indigestion and that I should sleep with raised pillows! I never get indigestion I told him. They kept asking me about pain on a scale of one to ten and I would say three because it really wasn’t pain, just pressure. I did get the impression that no-one was taking me seriously.
However, things hotted up a bit when my BP and pulse rate suddenly shot through the roof and my husband, who was sitting on a chair at the end of the bed and watching my monitors, fainted! A new ECG showed an anomaly and the senior nurse was straight on the phone to Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital. Someone put the resuscitation paddles on my chest and gave me some morphine.
The ambulance ride is a bit of a blur. Apparently we got to Liverpool in about 25 minutes, lights and sirens all the way. My husband tells me it was a helluva ride!
I was greeted at the door with a bed, transferred onto it and taken straight to the cath lab. I do remember the procedure in parts: my heart on the monitors in technicolour detail, the huge scanners around my neck and chest area, the lovely nurses who chatted to me all the way through and squeezed my toes to check I was OK. At one stage I drifted off somewhere and only came back to reality when I realised someone was shouting at me to cough. I heard them say ‘VF’ so I guess I had been experiencing ventricular fibrillation. I remember the surgeon calling in a colleague for a second opinion as to whether they should put a stent in as the arteries were clear, except for the one blockage, and they decided to go ahead and do it.
Back on the ward, I was happy and smiling (still high!) and covered in tubes! Steve said I was so smiley you wouldn’t think anything had happened. He, poor thing, had been waiting alone, with a leaflet on stenting, for about an hour and a half, not knowing what on earth was going on. I think it was worse for him on the actual day than it was for me.
A couple of hours later, one of the medical staff came to me with a print out showing the blockage and was able to confirm that no lasting damage had been done, but the heart attack was unexplained. My arteries were clear. He asked me if I smoked (no, never) drank (yes) exercised (yes) drugs (never). Was I stressed? (yes, I was grieving for my mum and had just resigned from a job that I hated with a passion). It was suggested I may have a hole in the heart so I underwent another procedure where they pumped air into my heart to see what happened, but that showed up nothing. In fact the words ‘spontaneous coronary artery dissection’ were not mentioned for a further six months!
I was happy as Larry for the first few hours, even watched Benidorm on TV, but I woke up at 5 a.m. next morning thinking ‘holy shit I’ve had a heart attack!’ and shook like a leaf under the covers until a kind nurse made me a cup of tea and chatted with me to calm me down.
Four years on, life is so different. If this hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be blogging that’s for sure. Nor would I be getting through my wish list of places to go and things to see with quite such enthusiasm and urgency. It this has taught me one thing, it’s that life has to be lived in the moment and that I’m through with waiting for things to happen.
SCAD is now becoming more recognised as a leading cause of heart attack in young women and a study has been commissioned to look into why it happens. Let’s hope we find some answers!
This is an excerpt from my diary of a year ago:
‘I wonder if I’ll ever be able to fly long haul again, or go to a country where I’m not scared of having a heart attack and getting the wrong treatment. I want to be fit and healthy, but getting my heart right is such an uphill struggle. The right way forward is to live in the moment , do the things I want to do while I can still do them, and not plan to be some fabulous version of myself sometime in the future. I have to be the best I can be right now because now is all we really have’.
Little did I know that a few months later I would win a holiday to New York! Seven and a half hours away flying across the Atlantic. Panic mode set in! There was no way I was going to miss this prize but could I do it? Would I run away when we got to the gate? Would anything happen to me on the plane?
I needed to access my inner strength. The only way to deal with this was ‘head in the sand’ mode. I just could not think past the holiday. I was focused on getting myself to the airport and not planning any further than that! I didn’t think about anything I had to do when I got home because in the back of my mind I thought I may not make it! I know, drama queen!!
So we got to Manchester airport and I felt sick with worry. To distract myself I bought a couple of magazines and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I refused to envisage myself boarding the plane or being in flight. I just took it moment by moment.
And guess what? I’m still here! The flight was bumpy as hell, but I didn’t panic, I just buried my nose in my book and mags and focused on just being me.
The relief when we landed at Newark was quite something! It was like a light had been switched on and all of a sudden I was the old me again, itching to explore. We had a fabulous trip and I feel I’ve overcome a major hurdle in my recovery. I would definitely consider another long haul flight – so roll on Barbados next winter!!
It really is no big secret as to why I’m overweight. I eat. A lot. When I’m happy. When I’m sad. When I’m celebrating. When I’m commiserating. I know it’s destructive behaviour and that I should be at least a stone lighter, but somehow, I’m stuck in this same old pattern. Four years ago after the shock of having a SCAD heart attack, I lost a stone in a matter of weeks. I ate no chocolate, no cake, no crisps. In short, I was motivated with a capital M. So why can’t I apply that same self discipline now? I know what to do, I cook from scratch, I have plenty of time, I work out regularly and I’m really organised.
The crux of it is, I’m an emotional eater. I often feel an emptiness which I interpret as hunger. Today for example, my heart is playing up (I have an irregular beat since my SCAD with runs of premature atrial contractions.) I feel like it is turning over in my chest and I’m not happy about it!! So what do I do? I eat a biscuit. As if that is going to make the slightest bit of difference (well not in the right direction at any rate). I know it’s wrong, but I still go right ahead and do it anyway.
On Saturday, I was standing in the queue in John Lewis, thinking ‘green tea’ and when I got to the counter I said ‘decaff cappuccino’ and helped myself to a bar of Green & Blacks white chocolate while I was at it. My heart said ‘you deserve a treat’ then minutes later, after I’d eaten it, my mind said ‘ you’re a failure!’
Part of me thinks ‘I may not live that long, let’s enjoy life and eat cake’. The other part of me says ‘I’m really healthy, I won’t let this heart problem get me down’. Today the cake lover is winning. Maybe tomorrow the healthy me will come out to play again. I hope so!!
Please support the BHF on 6 February with their Wear It Beat It campaign for heart research.
In 2011 I experienced a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. This explanation is taken from the US SCAD website:
SCAD is a rare, sometimes fatal, traumatic condition with approximately eighty percent of cases affecting women. The coronary artery can suddenly develop a tear, causing blood to flow between the layers which forces them apart, potentially causing a blockage of blood flow through the artery and a resulting heart attack. The condition may be related to female hormone levels, as it is often seen in post-partum women, or in women during or very near menstruation, but not always. It is not uncommon for SCAD to occur in people in good physical shape and with no known prior history of heart related illness. It is also not uncommon for SCAD to occur in people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, as well as older
The BHF is helping to fund some research with the University of Leicester into why SCAD happens and I’m hoping to be part of the study.
You can read more about it here:
Heart attack in women is not always recognised as we often present with different symptoms to the expected norm e.g. I had almost no pain, but I knew something was seriously wrong. The more research that is done into SCAD, the more we can understand it and help the medical profession to recognise the symptoms.