A few years ago, I happened to have completed a vigorous workout at the JCC just before visiting my doctor for a routine checkup. When he listened to my heartbeat, he heard a murmur, and referred me to a cardiologist. She had me do a stress echocardiogram, decided that there was nothing to worry about, and asked me to come back in a year. I did; that time, she only did a stress EKG, and sent me on my merry way.
A few weeks ago, I was at the JCC for Body Sculpting class, where we had a new instructor, who added quite a bit of cardio to the mix. One of the additions was a quick run around the room; I was surprised to feel some tightness in my chest while I was running. But if I slowed down a bit, all was well. And it didn’t happen every time. But I did make a point of mentioning it to my doctor at this year’s routine checkup. He decided that it needed to be investigated; a chest X-ray showed nothing (whew!), but something about my EKG didn’t look quite right, so he sent me back to the cardiologist for another stress echocardiogram, which happened yesterday.
They started by wiring me up, then doing some baseline measurements and getting a baseline echocardiogram before putting me on the treadmill. It seemed like the process took longer than it did on my first visit, so I wondered what was going on. When the cardiologist came in, she and the tech conferred for a bit, and then she told me that she wasn’t sure I should take even the test — that my aortic valve was clearly not opening fully. But then she decided she’d get more data by putting me on the treadmill, so away I went.
Taking the stress test is a lot like playing a coin-operated video game — the machine is going to win, it’s just a question of how long you’ll last. This time around, I made it to the fourth level (16% grade, about 4 mph) before the doctor stopped the test; my heart rate was up around 150, and I was starting to feel a little tightness in my chest. Right after the test, they took another echocardiogram, and that confirmed the diagnosis: I have symptomatic aortic valve stenosis, which means I have surgery in my future. Not, fortunately, the immediate future, but probably within a year or two.
In the meantime, I’m excused from the classes I’ve been taking at the JCC and from giving blood; I also need antibiotics before I visit the dentist. But I can continue to do aerobic exercise (as long as I stay below the point of discomfort), and I’m cleared to try yoga (but not pilates) and to continue to frustrate myself with golf. What could be better?
Needless to say, I have lots of research to do before making any decisions, including where I want to be treated (and making sure that my insurance plan offers choices). I am very glad to have time to make decisions on this one!