Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My racing heart...


A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch, reading, and I started to feel weird. I noticed that my heart was beating irregularly. I've had heart flutters before, and usually they just pass. It's a weird, kind of uncomfortable sensation. Have you ever felt this? This time, I did some yoga breathing to relax but the feeling didn't pass. I put my fingers on my wrist to feel my pulse, and yes, I was having irregular heart beats. I got up to get my stethoscope and put it on my chest. Very irregular.

I considered what to do. I'd been down this road before. About 10 years ago, I had something like this happen. I had chest pain and palpitations while working at the hospital. I was sent to the ER and put on a heart monitor. Of course, the act of putting me on the monitor was curative, and my heart rhythm was back to normal. I followed up with a cardiologist, was put on a 72 hour heart monitor, which was essentially normal, except for the tachycardia (fast heart rate) that occurred when I was running. Ha! I wonder what the technicians thought when they saw that!


So in light of that, I decided to ride out this episode. I felt ok, and I knew, as a medical person, that if I went to the ER, in February, which is the thick of cold and flu season, that the triage nurse would take one look at me, see a thin, athletic looking woman, and think low cardiac risk. She probably would start to judge me and think anxiety. I know how these ER nurses think, since I used to be one of them. She'd put me at the bottom of the priority list, and I'd probably sit in that waiting room for hours while they took people who were much sicker than me. That's how the ER works. Knowing all this, I figured that if I felt worse, I could always go to the ER, or I could see my personal physician the next day.

******Disclaimer: I'm not recommending anyone do what I did. If you are feeling chest pains or rapid/irregular heart beats, you need to get it checked out! I possess enough medical knowledge to be dangerous to myself. You know what they say, medical professionals make the worst patients. Do as I say, not as I do.******

The symptoms finally passed and I haven't had another episode since. Curious to find out what could have happened, I did some research. Conventional wisdom tells us that exercise is good for our heart, and puts us at low risk for cardiac issues. But some controversial studies have come out that say maybe TOO MUCH running is not good for our hearts. What happens when we run?


There's no question that endurance activities put a strain on our hearts. Your heart is a muscle, and when you train, that muscle works hard. Moderate exercise helps strengthen that muscle, and is considered "cardioprotective", or good for your heart. But what about more intense endurance activities, like marathon running or triathlons?

Over time, the heart adapts to endurance activities by increasing the effectiveness of the heart to pump blood to the body. In other words, this leads to increased muscle size of the heart and a lower pulse rate. But running an endurance event, like a marathon can lead to temporary changes in the heart muscle that indicate damage. The good news is that for most of us, everything returns to normal after 24-48 hours. And even though you do hear of people dropping dead at the finish line, those events are really, really rare.

What could be causing my palpitations? Studies show that these irregular heart beats are more common in older athletes. Actually, irregular heart beats are more common in older people in general. There can be several different types of palpitations. But for the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to focus on the 2 most common types of palpitations that occur in athletes.

In older and middle aged runners, I guess that includes me, there is an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation. This is thought to be related to changes in the structure of the heart, including the electrical pathways. Atrial fibrillation is felt like a fluttering in the chest. There can be lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. The heart rate is elevated.



Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are fairly common in athletes of all ages. There are several different theories behind this, but commonly these beats are thought to be an "escape" rhythm felt between normal beats of the slower heart rate in the well trained athlete. Random PVCs are not usually a problem. I've had these many times, and I think that's most likely what was going on with me that afternoon.

There are other causes for heart palpitations that have nothing to do with running. Fatigue, caffeine, stress, thyroid problems, and hormonal changes (pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause) can also cause palpitations.

When is an irregular heartbeat a problem? Palpitations during a run are usually considered to be more serious than those that occur during rest. Those need to be checked out. But other palpitations? Like mine?

I haven't had any further episodes. There was no associated chest pain. Oddly, once I had a glass of wine, things settled down. I'm not sure what caused my heart to flutter. God knows I've had a lot of stress lately. The good thing for me is that I've had this worked up in the past, and everything was 100% normal. For now, I'm ok to wait.

And you know, it's still better to run than to sit on the couch and think about running.

But when in doubt, get it checked out.




To read more:
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/836064_12
http://www.runnersworld.com/health/study-30-milesweek-may-be-excessive-after-a-heart-attack
http://www.runnersworld.com/health/will-running-too-much-kill-you
http://www.runnersworld.com/health/the-supposed-dangers-of-running-too-much

I'm linking up with Femme Fitale Fit Club and Workout Wednesday! Be sure to head on over and check out all the other blogs.

29 comments :

  1. Yep, I too have an irregular heart beat from time to time. I also have high blood pressure though, and I'm not a walking picture of health! I should probably get checked out at some point. I did have an echocardiogram that showed an enlarged vessel, but overall I was ok. I hope you don't have any more episodes!

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    1. Me too! But at least I know what they are. Glad you are ok too!

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  2. I experience tachycardia most nights right before bed. I had it checked out by my doctor and he seems to think it is ok. I have been hearing more often about people following over with heart problems during a race. Just last year in VA beach there were two. This definitely scares me because you never know if it could happen to you. Glad you know what to look for and things are okay.

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    1. You too! Do you do anything to make the tachycardia go away? That's so odd that it happens every night!

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  3. I have mitral valve prolapse so I have these all...the...time and mostly on non running days. I take Acebutolol for it as needed and it works immediately. This is one thing I wish would go away completely, but so far it has not. I drink half caff coffee because caffeine irritates it and so does chocolate and alcohol, So I don't get to cheat much LOL!! Sounds like yours is stress related and I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you don't have any more of those episodes sister!! Love you lots!

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    1. I have this too. I've learned over many years that sugar is my worst trigger! Coffee is OK for me.

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    2. Wow, sugar? Wine helped stop it...hmmmm....

      Thanks ladies!

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  4. Scary! Glad it seemed to resolve itself. I've have felt that after having surgery for an ectopic peg. my hormones were all over the place. It did pass, so I never worried. You are right, stress, it can manifest itself for sure.
    I usually wear a heart rate monitor all the time when I train, and once in awhile I will have a crazy spike, like 180 or 190 beats a min. but I seem to stay in the same range regular so I figure that's good.

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    1. I think as long as you feel ok, you should be ok.

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  5. Were you reading my blog a couple summers ago when I had this? Abnormal EKG at my annual physical. failed Holter monitor then stress echo. With heart disease rampant on my dad's side, I was worried. But all is fine. One can never be too careful though.

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    1. I did read that and thought about you as I wrote this. Did you have the EKG bc you were having symptoms? Or was it just a screening EKG? And what did they find out was wrong?

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  6. Interesting! And a bit scary, I would guess. Fingers crossed for you that it is nothing at all and that it all will pass!

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    1. At the time, I was a little nervous but since I'd had the million dollar work up a few years ago, I figured it was just a weird thing...

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  7. I'm glad things seem to be back to normal, Wendy; you're definitely right about medical professional being the worst patients, though - ha!! Be careful, girl!

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  8. This happened to me and I found out I had hyperthyroidism. I had a tumor on my thyroid. You should go to your doctor. It could be anything but he/she will run some tests on you. #wowlinkup

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    1. Oh, I had everything done a few years ago. No need to go through all that again!

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  9. Sorry this happened - scary. So many potential causes including stress, sleep deprivation, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance (also, low calcium can cause heart issues though I'm not sure if arrhythmia is one of them and there are other symptoms you'd notice), fatigue, thyroid hormones and of course the ever-popular female hormone swings (especially as we reach a certain age). Hiatal hernia can press on vagus (vagal?) nerve I think, and cause some irregularities. And AFib just flat out stinks. I'm sure you're keeping an eye on it and will get it checked out if it recurs.

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    1. That's what I thought...if it comes back, I'll have it looked at.

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  10. I have MVP. After feeling like my heart was slamming and racing all the time, I was diagnosed 18 years ago when pregnant with my 2nd child. I've learned too much sugar is like poison for me. Thus, I can't drink too much and eat often to keep my blood sugar regulated. Overwhelming stress does not help. You can't be too careful. In your profession, I know you will have it checked if it persists, right? Good luck this weekend!

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  11. Yikes, that's scary! Don't most people have an irregular heart beat at one time or another? We just don't know it because it isn't prolonged and we aren't on an EKG monitor at all times.I hope you are feeling better...but you better get that checked out if it happens again friend. Nurses definitely are the worst patients, myself included!

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    1. Haha! I was waiting for you to comment! I've had those random PVCs before but nothing like this. I thought it was all in my head until I felt my irregular pulse...but it did pass and I've been fine since.

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  12. I'm glad you're going to get it checked out, even though it's probably nothing. I get random heart "things" occasionally, usually the feeling of my heart racing or beating really hard. They don't last long. I've had them for years, but now that I too am an older athlete, I have a moment of worry when they happen. What if this one is the real thing?

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    1. I've been checked in the past, I have no plans to get checked this time around since everything was ok before. I'm not worried about a heart attack. Having medical knowledge helps me somewhat, I think.

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  13. I had an episode(s) like these several years ago at work. Ended up in the ER and was monitored for a while. Stress/Anxiety is usually my trigger. They couldn't find anything wrong with me, though. Hope yours was an isolated incident!!!! xoxoxoox

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  14. I am so fortunate *knock on wood* I have never experienced this. My heart rate gets up there and even w/ the BEST HRMs it says I hit 200 bpm sometimes when I am pushing extremely hard at 44 years of age. But definitely if something feels weird get it checked out. My uncle died unexpectedlyl from a heart attack b/c he just laid back down when something felt weird vs. going to the hospital. Not trying to scare anyone but you have to take care of yourself. #wowlinkup

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    1. Oh, I've had it checked out in the past and everything was fine. I knew what was going on. Its just weird...

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