“Sir, you’re having a mild hear attack”
Wait a second, how does a healthy, active guy in his 40′s have a medic telling him this news as he gets pushed into an ambulance at the brisk hour of 2:30 am?
Believe it or not, that was the beginning of a 24 hour visit to the hospital that made me rethink a whole bunch of stuff. It turns out it was Pericarditis, an inflammation of the tissue around the heart. Symptoms can be very similar to a heart attack… chest pressure, pain in the left shoulder and tightness into the neck.
Ambulance medics don’t have sensitive enough equipment to detect the difference between a heart attack and various other heart afflictions that are far less serious. Only once at the hospital and with the use of an EKG, X-ray, Echocardiography and an Angiogram (they actually snaked a fiber optic wire into my heart!), were they able to determine what the actual issue was. The scary part was having them start shaving my chest as soon as I arrived in the Cardiac Area, and before they figured out what I was experiencing, “just in case” they had to crack open my ribs and do a by-pass!
The good news is that my release was very understated…the nurse came by to discharge me with a reminder to not drive for 24 hours and my prescriptions for some regular aspirin, colchicine and pantoprazole. Ironically the pantoprazole is only there to offset the strain on the stomach lining caused by the aspirin, which was prescribed for its anti-inflammatory function.
The bigger question is how did I end up having Pericarditis? It turns out that the most frequent cause is a virus, that in rare occasions can be brought on by a cold or flu. I had not had a cold since August, so as my further investigation has discovered, there still remains a fair amount of mystery about the full range of causes. My suspicion is that Pericarditis was actually triggered by a cold I had in the spring that I dismissed as just a ‘sniffle’. Ever since however, I had occasionally experienced a short, sharp pain in my left shoulder, which I of course attributed to some other athletic injury.
So what now? Here are 3 things I’ve decided to commit to that I share in the hopes that it can help you avoid Pericarditis or any other more serious heart afflictions. I’m not a doctor so use these as action inspiration vs fact confirmation:
Get More Sleep: There is increasing evidence that adequate sleep is critical for effective heart recovery, amongst other mental and physical benefits. Here’s a link to just one of many articles on the subject. People who exercise more and/or have higher levels of stress in their lives need to take particular note.
Have Your Heart Tested: There is a myth that this should start when you retire. Many recommend starting as young as 20. The heart is a very complicated machine so get your doctor to send you to a cardiologist to have your heart tested regularly, especially if you have family history of heart afflictions, are starting to do more strenuous exercise, do lots of exercise that lasts for over an hour each time or have experienced unusual chest pains.
Let Your Heart Recover: Physical and mental stress affects our heart. We’ve heard about the importance of giving your heart ample opportunity for ‘rest’ time during the day and night when it can be free of work, or workout stress. Now there is also increasing evidence that the kind of nutrition you consume before and especially after periods of heart stress can reduce potential harm to your heart.
Here’s to many more years of having a healthy heart!