I sat in the waiting room, staring down at my phone. I had just googled “can stress cause a heart attack.” I mean, we all know it can… I was just double-checking.
I touched my chest. I thought of when my mom described what it felt like to have A-Fib. She was laying in the hospital bed, machines beeping and wires hanging everywhere, it was a scary time.
“It feels like my heart is flip-flopping around,” she told me.
This was terrifying, not just because my mom was suffering, but also because I feel this way all the time. Especially late at night, just before bed… my heart will give a little flutter just before I fall asleep.
Well, that “little flutter” has been happening a lot lately. So much so that I made a doctor’s appointment and spent the morning in the waiting room, freaking out, searching the internet for signs of my untimely demise.
So the nurse hooked me up to the EKG, took my blood pressure and measured my heart rate.
Shockingly (to me) all my vitals were totally normal, if not better-than-average.
The doctor came in and began asking questions about my lifestyle, my activity level, and eventually cycling - how often, how long.
Honestly, I’m kind of in off-season right now, so there wasn’t much to tell. But this never happens when I’m actually on the saddle. Always at rest.
“Well,” he told me, “this is pretty common in athletes, especially women. As your heart and body gets stronger and more efficient with exercise, the heart rate drops. Sometimes, the pause between beats becomes so elongated that the heart worries that you are dead - so it sends a pulse out, a weak pulse from the ventricle. That is probably what you are feeling. But since you are not dead, your heart ignores that little pulse and goes on as normal.”
It's called athlete's heart.
It happens to people that train for 1+ hours per day on most days; the result is lowered heart rate, systolic murmur and extra heart sounds.
We looked at my EKG and he sketched out, on the exam table, what an abnormal heartbeat would look like.
Since in the 2-minute EKG they weren’t able to detect any abnormality, my little flutter is probably not a big deal.
He did offer me a beta blocker which will slow down the heart rate a tad, and keep unnecessary electrical impulses at bay.
“This type of drug is illegal in competitive sports, since it will likely improve your stamina,” he told me.
As tempting as it is to begin a beta-blocker regime at age 31, I passed on the drugs. Less coffee, more sleep, more cycling - that is my prescription for now.