Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Day 352 - My Unusual Heart...

There is something I have been meaning to share with all of you for some time now, but I wasn't too sure how to approach it, so I will be as open about it as I can, and hopefully it can educate all of you.

I have been diagnosed with Atrial Flutter. I am not entirely sure what caused this, or how long I have potentially known about it. I have my own theories and hypotheses based on my own life experiences, but I will keep those to myself as they are just that, hypotheses. I will, however, give you the story of what I know up until now.

A few years ago, every one in a while, I would notice my heart doing funny things when I would be at rest. If I was sitting down, relaxed, watching tv or something, I randomly feel these 'flip-flops' with my heart, like it would skip a beat. Fine. Not a problem. They would usually be very short episodes, and I would forget about it just about as quickly as they would happen.

Around the time I was first noticing these incidences was about the time I was training for my first half marathon, so I was in some of the best shape, cardio-wise, I had ever been in, so I just figured my heart would skip a beat because my resting heart rate was so low.

The incidences began to happen a bit more frequently, but still not alarming to me. It wasn't until about a year ago now, at the start of 2012 that I decided to just casually mention it to my doctor during a physical. She checked me out, listened to my heart, explained that I may have a "pause" that can be perfectly normal, especially in healthy individuals, and sent me for some tests. I had various tests done (ECG, ultrasound, etc.) and went and saw a local heart specialist. After seeing him, I had more tests done, all the while being reassured that my "pause" was fine, safe, and normal. I took a stress test, I wore a holter monitor for two weeks, all the while still exercising and training without any problems at all.

After my test results came back, I sat down the heart specialist again, and as it turned out at the time, I was safe and healthy as could be. I learned along my travels that people's hearts are actually more abnormal than most think. I also learned a heck of a lot about the pacing and electrical work of the heart (it really is quite an amazing piece of machinery!).

All of the tests I had done have shown that my heart is healthy, there are no structural abnormalities or problems, I just seem to have this random beat every so often. In speaking with my dad, turns out, he started having similar experiences around the same age I was when I first started noticing them (27 years old). This leads me to believe that this 'thing' really is just a genetic fluke basically.

For months I went about my daily life, training, exercising, doing the things I love with 'episodes' here and there, but knowing in the back of my mind that I am safe and it is normal, helped me not worry about the problem.

However, for the past few months, my random heart "pauses" seem to have changed a bit, and I now have episodes from time to time where my heart not only "pauses" from time to time, it also skips and races a bit. It is not painful, but noticeable. It almost feels like my heart is a bowl of jelly and someone just shook the bowl. Hard to describe, but definitely a weird sensation.

I decided to go get things checked out again, so back in I went for more tests, and back in to speak with the heart specialist again. My newest round of tests has shown that I have what is known as Atrial Flutter. You can read all about atrial flutter on the linked Wiki page, but I will say that I have been reassured by the heart specialist yet again that this is actually quite a common, and safe condition, especially someone young and fit as I am.

So what does this mean for me now?

Well, naturally, I am heading for more tests in the coming weeks. Whenever you are dealing with the heart, doctors like to make sure they know everything there is to know about your heart, so that it keeps on tickin'. I will have a chest x-ray, stress test, another 72-hour holter monitor, etc. My doc even wants me to wear my holter monitor when I go for a run so that he can see what my heart function is like while exercising.

From there, I am going to take my test results and go see a specific cardiologist known as an Electrophysiologist. Basically, they are cardiologists that specialize in the internal electrical work, especially with abnormal heart rhythms. After I see the electrophysiologist, I will then update you on where and what my next steps will be.

I am scheduled to run Tough Mudder in May with my wife. I am still going ahead with this, as I have been cleared to exercise, but I will be opting-out of the electrical obstacles. When speaking with the heart specialist, he said that getting zapped at this event is not necessarily dangerous to my survival, he said that at this point in time, I should not be messing around with the electrical systems of my heart.

What else can I take from all of this?

The original heart specialist I saw has remarked time and time again how fit I am, and how much that has helped this whole situation. When I have episodes of "fluttering" with my right atria, it is possible for that section of my heart to race at a pretty high rate. Because I am fit, my heart itself has no problems taking on that kind of heart rate.

Secondly, because of my health, I am at a much lower risk of blood clotting. When I have these episodes, there is the potential for pooling blood in my heart, which can increase the risk of clotting, for older or unfit individuals.

In fact, when I have been in for my stress test, I get a good chuckle out of doing the stress test. If you have ever done a stress test before, you walk on a treadmill at increasing pace to deliberately stress your heart to a certain heart rate. Last time I was there, the test took far longer due to the fact that the test is designed for folks who aren't in as good of physical shape. The test I took, I was not allowed to run, only walk faster and faster. I actually reached a point where I could physically not walk fast enough to keep up with the pace of the treadmill...yet my heart rate had not reached the desired 175bpm or whatever I was aiming for, my heart was just too efficient!

I am still ok to exercise! I have to admit, that was one of the first things that always goes through my mind when I am in speaking with the specialist or anyone surrounding my situation. I have grown to love exercise and training so much throughout my life and I honestly can't see myself handling not exercising very well. I have been told, however, to not completely push myself to the limit (aka, Insanity) but regular exercise is fine, at least until I get everything sorted out.

So, I will still continue to train for my Tough Mudder in a few weeks. I will participate (skipping the shocking obstacles). Following Tough Mudder, however, I will most certainly be heading back to my own Body Beast concoction with just moderate cardio exercise thrown in, and will go take all of my required tests, and see the required specialists to make sure I am cleared to continue!

As always, if you have any questions regarding any of this, please let me know or comment below. You may have a question regarding feeling something similar, so it never hurts to ask, and it NEVER hurts to get things checked out, so if you have any problems, go see your doctor.

I will keep everyone updated as the rest of this story unfolds, so stay tuned!

Quote of the day:
"There is little you can learn from doing nothing."
~ Zig Ziglar

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