I regard myself as a pretty fit and healthy person and I’m sure many of you who follow my blog would probably agree. I run 2 – 3 times a week, practice daily yoga and strength training.
I try to eat healthy most of the time and make sure I have my regular mammogram and colonoscopy screenings because of my family history with breast cancer and bowel cancer. Dad also had heart problems but my blood tests have always shown good cholesterol levels so I haven’t been concerned.
What I didn’t realise was that I have a small health problem developing quietly, which I only found by accident.
Towards the end of last year, a few times when I was running I could feel a tightness in my chest. It wasn’t a pain like ‘ouch’ more just like someone sitting on my chest, and it wasn’t there all the time. I thought it might have been my body telling me to slow down and recover more from running my second marathon a couple of months earlier.
The day that I had to stop running because my chest felt so tight, I knew that I needed to find out what it was.
A visit to the G.P. confirmed that I was healthy, it wasn’t asthma or a chest infection. He was stumped but as my father had had a couple of heart attacks in his 40s the G.P. decided we needed to investigate my problem further and take a look at my heart.
The starting point was to have a Coronary Calcium Score CT Scan. This scan shows whether the arteries are narrowed or blocked due to the build up of calcified plaque which can lead to Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).
When I went back for my results the G.P. explained that for a normal person the results would be acceptable BUT for someone of my fitness level a score of 66 was not acceptable. It should have been closer to zero.
Next step was to organize a stress test with a cardiologist which I booked for later in the week.
A visit to the Emergency Department
The pain felt worse the next day, so a trip to the emergency department showed that although my blood pressure was very high, the ECG was good and blood tests showed I had no signs of a heart attack. My lung capacity was 50% better than average for people in their 60s. My cholesterol was excellent.
Ok – no heart attack and no heart damage – tick! However, the doctor suggested I continue with the stress test.
I felt a little foolish rocking up to the E.D. and then getting the all clear. However the doctor advised that if anyone has any chest pain they should always go to emergency even if it turns out to be nothing more than indigestion.
Next step – A Stress Test and Echocardiogram
An Echo Stress Test determines how well your heart and blood vessels are working. You are hooked up to a an ECG machine and your heart rate and regularity are measured firstly ‘At Rest’ and then after walking or running on a treadmill. As I expected I blitzed the stress test and performed better than the average person my age. Another tick!
BUT and there is always a ‘but’ isn’t there!
The cardiologist explained that despite my fitness and my ‘normally more than acceptable’ cholesterol levels, I was still at risk of a future heart attack because of the calcium buildup. He explained that I was doing everything right to keep healthy but I couldn’t change my ‘genes’.
With a family history, despite my healthy lifestyle, the risks of heart attack are higher.
He couldn’t however, determine what the tightness was but it definitely wasn’t anything related to my heart.
Improving and maintaining a healthy heart.
So what do I do?
The cardiologist told me I can’t control my genes but I can make some changes to my lifestyle. He has suggested I:
- Halve my already low cholesterol
- Follow a more ‘mediterranean diet’ with more fish, less meat and lots of vegetables, legumes and nuts.
- I take a very low dose of a statin to help lower my cholesterol
- KEEP RUNNING which I’m happy to hear and make sure I get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily!
I will revisit him in 3 months time so fingers crossed I will be where he wants me to be.
What I learned from this experience
- Don’t take your health for granted
- If something doesn’t feel right get it check out sooner rather than later
- Know your family medical history and make sure you know what tests and screenings you should be having. In my parents day, things like this weren’t really discussed and as both my parents died over 30 years ago I can’t ask them now.
- Don’t assume because you are fit and healthy that you won’t experience health issues.
I never did determine what caused the original problem but it seems to have gone.
Do you have any tests you need to schedule?
This post is part of my #FitFabFeb2019 Series.
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