Guest Blogger – “Old Runner”

“Old Runner” is a seventy five year old well seasoned runner still running marathons with atrial fibrillation. I find him to be truly inspirational.

 

 

It was November, 2002, at the NYC marathon. I had previously run 15 marathons over a period of eighteen years, none slower than four and ½ hours.

This one was going to be five hours and 15 minutes!

I experienced shortness of breath while running to the side of the street and high-fiving the kids watching from the sidelines. I had to walk the bridge decks (the only change in elevation on an otherwise flat course.)

Suffering no ill effects from this race, I kept on running over the years, experiencing occasional periods during a training run where I had to slow to accommodate perceived extra effort without any change in actual pace. These episodes would pass after a few minutes and I could resume my normal pace again.

Then, in 2007 I passed out in the bathroom while urinating (the doctors have a word for this phenomena which I can’t recall). I went to the hospital for observation and after a stress test was diagnosed with right atrial fibrillation. An ablation procedure changed nothing.  Another doctor I visited said he would not have performed the procedure; when I asked why he stated, “too many trigger points”.

Today I’m seventy five years old, a veteran of 37 marathons. I haven’t run a marathon for a couple of years, my most recent half marathon was last year. I’m still running but most of my runs include some walking. My A-fib is on and off, meaning I go in and out of fibrillation, I have no idea when this occurs any more just that it does occur. A stroke is the biggest danger I face with this form of a-fib so my cardiologist prescribed “warfarin” a blood thinner.  At 75 years of age my pace is closer to twelve minutes a mile, which is a bit depressing, but it is what it is and I know moving is the most important thing I can do for my health – so I keep moving.

Signing out,

“Old Runner”

 

 

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Guest Blogger – UK AFib Runner Mike Munson

This is an amazing story from a British AFib Runner, Mike Munson. This guy is truly hard-core and persistent. Non-runners who read this will be shocked, but I think most endurance athletes with atrial fibrillation will “get it.” Mike has been a gifted athlete over the years – his times when he was having to walk and jog because of an AFib attack are probably faster than my PR times! He initially dealt with attacks of atrial fibrillation, and eventually had to deal with (probably unrelated) cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease. Please feel free to comment. Thanks for sharing your story, Mike!

 

I had run regularly since about 1964 when I won my local district schools 1 mile in 5m 4secs (aged eleven) on a grass track, bare footed (the school did provide spikes but they hurt my feet). I joined my local Athletic club at twelve, running Track & Field in the summer, Cross Country in the Winter at County & National level. After University I worked in Africa but ran hard most days and started running slightly longer distances in hot climates in Central Africa (ie 10km & 10 Miles). I didn’t race much but did my first 10k in Lagos, Nigeria.

On returning to the UK in my mid 30’s and just starting a family I eased up on the intensity of my training but still ran most days and competed regularly for my local Running Club. As a club we had an internal “Grand Prix” where we competed against clubmates of similar ability.

In late 2000 (aged 50) I was taking part in the last 10km of the year, a relatively easy course that would normally have taken me about 40 mins to compete. I was a very consistent runner and usually started slower and ran negative splits. On this occasion I found myself collapsing for no apparent reason within a few hundred metres of the start. As it was the last run of the series (& I am not one to give up anyway), I picked myself up and initially started walking then broke into a jog, but very quickly had to stop again. I had no idea what was happening but by stopping and walking and jogging very slowly I eventually got round but really collapsed at the finish in around 60min . I went to see my GP the following morning and she sent me straight to Hospital. On doing a test on the treadmill they noted I had an irregular heartbeat, but didn’t do anything about it.

Over the next few years the attacks increased from every few months to every few weeks and seemed to be quite random, although I tried to work out if by running at a particular pace or warming up longer would help. If an attack occurred in a race I tended to stop  and walk to the finish as I was coaching youngsters and didn’t want them waiting around too long for me  if I ran to collapse .

In 2006 I moved to Suffolk and introduced myself to my new GP who happened to be a runner. He immediately referred me to a Cardiologist at the local Hospital who had me tested immediately and then transferred me to Papworth (Our Regional Cardiac Centre). They carried out an ablation which unfortunately didn’t work and I still have AFib. However I was given medication (Flecainide ), this had side effects of dizzy spells and blackouts which became very regular. Some of my friends found me a bit blasé about my collapsing and I was often heard to say to a fellow runner who might have stopped to help me, “Oh it’s no problem, I just have a heart problem.” Sometime they would be very shocked but would still try to encourage me to get up quickly and run fast to the finish but all I ever wanted was to get to the finish at my speed, which sometimes could be quite fast and sometimes I would be walking through the line. I became incredibly inconsistent. Over the past 25 years I have been in clubs that had 5km handicap championships each summer. Previously they would very by under a minute over the season but latterly on a good day (prior to going on beta blockers) I could vary from 22 to 31mins, depending how many times I collapsed.

All this time my pace was getting slower as I was unable to train properly (ie more than I would have expected due to my getting older), although one time I spoke to my GP about it an she said “don’t you realise you are getting older” to which I replied yes but I am slowing down too much!

 Therefore I turned to trail running with self navigating. This became very enjoyable and I particularly enjoyed the refreshments at check points, however by 2013 I was getting concerned about my ability to compete longer events and started collapsing and feeling sick if I tried pushing the pace at all. I spoke to my GP who arranged a 24 hour monitor. During this period we had our club 5km championship so I was happy to test myself with the monitor on. Please bear in mind I had been assured that  Afib wouldn’t kill me by my GP.  About 400m from the finish I had a black out  and I went down. A friend was just behind me, checked on me, I had come to and told him I was OK and would walk to the finish. He informed the next official who advised him I was now just behind him. In fact I recovered so quickly I actually overtook him before collapsing again near the finish. I returned the monitor to the Hospital the following day and soon after getting home a Consultant called me to come in immediately but I shouldn’t drive. I was kept in for tests, but in the end they changed my medication to a Beta blocker, which did stop the dizzy spells and blackout, however, my pace in training immediately slowed further from around 8 minute mile to 10 minute mile.

I was then doing more Trail Marathons as it didn’t seem to matter what pace I ran and was good fun, whilst still a challenge and hopefully keeping me fit. 2016 & early 2017 I found when doing easy Trail Marathons increasingly I was struggling over the last few miles, even contemplating taking short cuts, not wanting to cheat but just to finish. I did actually collapse twice at the finish and on one occasion the paramedic suggested going to A&E but I felt I would be OK in the morning (and of course I was).

Then 4th June 2017 I was in the 25th mile of the Stour Valley Trail Marathon (a fairly tough race with several long hills which was my 7th Marathon of the year) on one of the warmest days of 2017 in England, when I collapsed with an SCA (sudden cardiac arrest). Apparently this may be nothing to do with my Afib.

I had an ICD fitted and it has triggered twice since (during runs/ long walks as I am supposed to be taking it easy) and I have now had a double bypass as 2 arteries were narrowed. I am now doing Cardiac Rehab and hope to get back running soon, but will be patient (especially after dying last year for 25 minutes). However the Afib is still with me and I am still on 3.75 mg Bisoprolol.

 However now my wife carefully vets anyone giving me a lift. The guy who gave me the lift on that fateful day is still not allowed to drive me.

The local running community have been great. As I lost my driving licence friends have driven me around. As I could run last winter the local Cross Country League have let me walk the ladies distance. Unfortunately my last collapse meant I missed the penultimate race as I was in Hospital, so as race Director I was busy sending messages out to get the race on. At the Presentation night I was given a special award which was very humbling. I was the first recipient of this award named after a regular runner who had passed away in the previous season.

This summer as I have not been allowed to run I have been raising money for local cardiac charities by organising 21 Trail runs in my County on Wednesday evenings, starting at a Village Pub and using Public Footpaths. It is a simple concept whereby we sell an instruction sheet for £2 and runners self navigate round one of 2 routes either short (maybe 3-4 miles) or longer 6 + miles and then finish at the Pub. We sometimes put on additional things, like one night we tested people for AFib before they set off. This was well received and 120 people turned up; however I was the only person testing positive for A Fib! It created a fair amount of awareness and we managed an article in our Regional Daily.

Is this the sort of thing you wanted to see?  My family have been very supportive of me as they saw me in Hospital with tubes in me etc and where told that maybe I wouldn’t survive the induced coma and if I did as I was out for 25 minutes I might have brain damage but I seem to be very lucky!

Best Regards Mike Munson (aged 65)

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation?

Is Digoxin a Good Choice for Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation? I want to make it clear, once again, that I am writing this blog as an endurance athlete dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF) – not as a clinician. I’m not a cardiologist or a primary care physician. I’m simply posing a question and not answering it. It is important for you to be in agreement with your cardiologist and primary care provider about your treatment plan Whatever you do – DON’T STOP TAKING ANY MEDICATION YOU HAVE BEEN PRESCRIBED BECAUSE YOU READ ABOUT SIDE EFFECTS ON SOME GUY’S BLOG!

Also – full disclosure – I take a low dose of digoxin.

Digoxin is the generic name for Lanoxin which has been actually been used for hundreds of years as an herbal preparation (Digitalis) from the foxglove plant, seen above, which is a lovely plant, don’t you think?

Digoxin is used to treat atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and heart failure. My cardiologist told me that many of the younger cardiologists don’t generally even prescribe it any longer.

Digoxin has a narrow therapeutic index, which means that at too low of a dose it isn’t very effective and at higher doses it is toxic. Because of this it has many side effects. It is unknown whether digoxin is safe during pregnancy. Digoxin works by improving heart function by strengthening the contractions and slowing the heart rate.

A 2018 paper published Journal of the American College of Cardiology concluded that digoxin increased mortality in patients with atrial fibrillation regardless of heart failure.

Conclusions In patients with AF taking digoxin, the risk of death was independently related to serum digoxin concentration and was highest in patients with concentrations ≥1.2 ng/ml. Initiating digoxin was independently associated with higher mortality in patients with AF, regardless of heart failure.

Yikes!

Also consider that several of the authors of the study disclosed that they had financial ties to pharma and medical device companies, including pharmaceutical giants Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Pfizer who funded the study.

But look! Runners and other endurance athletes need to ask their cardiologists about digoxin toxicity because both dehydration and low magnesium increase the chance of toxicity. Who among us hasn’t been dehydrated?

I’m going to be asking my cardiologist more questions about digoxin next time I see her. As I mentioned I take a small dose and when we did lab work my digoxin level was low, below the therapeutic window, which she said was fine – she just wanted to make sire it wasn’t too high. Me too!

I’d love to see your comments!

Dehydrated Trail Runner – me!

Coffee and Atrial Fibrillation – Update

A couple of years ago I posted an article on this block entitled Does Drinking Coffee Cause Atrial Fibrillation?   

It had been determined that drinking coffee, even in fairly large amounts, did not increase the risk of an individual going into atrial fibrillation.

 

In their analysis, the researchers found that coffee consumption was not associated with AF incidence, even in more extreme levels of coffee consumption.

 

The article went on to state that while drinking coffee does not cause atrial fibrillation individuals who have no history of atrial fibrillation, it was thought that coffee may be related to recurrence of atrial fibrillation and individuals who have the arrhythmia intermittently:

 

“These findings indicate that coffee consumption does not cause atrial fibrillation,” Larsson says. “However, high coffee consumption may still trigger arrhythmia in patients who already have atrial fibrillation.”

 

 

It was stated that more research was necessary. 

A recent, widely reported Australian study, a very large review of existing studies, determined that coffee is likely safe for people with atrial fibrillation.

 

“Although coffee increases your heart rate, it does not make it abnormal,” explained senior researcher Dr. Peter Kistler.  . . . “We found that there is no detrimental effects of coffee on heart rhythm and, in fact, coffee at up to three cups per day may be protective,” he said.

 

Protective?  That sounds like terrific news!  It is always nice to find out that something that is so enjoyable, but which you have assumed is possibly unhealthy, turns out to be not only safe but good for you also, reducing, to a small extent, episodes of atrial  fibrillation.

 

 Kistler’s group found that, among more than 228,000 patients, drinking coffee cut the frequency of episodes of atrial fibrillation by 6 percent. A further analysis of nearly 116,000 patients found a 13 percent risk reduction.

One cup of coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine and acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system.

Caffeine also blocks adenosine, a chemical that can trigger atrial fibrillation, Kistler explained.

 

This study did, however, go on to recommend that people with heart arrhythmias avoid caffeinated energy drinks.  Furthermore, people who are sensitive to caffeine, should still avoid coffee.  Again there are certain people who identify caffeine is a trigger for atrial fibrillation and those individual should, by no means, return to drinking coffee.

 

Please comment with respect to your experiences with coffee, energy drinks, and atrial fibrillation.  Thanks!

The original study can be found here:

 Peter Kistler, MBBS, Ph.D., director, electrophysiology, Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia; Byron Lee, M.D., professor, medicine, director, electrophysiology laboratories and clinics, University of California, San Francisco; April 16, 2018, JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology

Whatever Happened to AFIB Ultrarunner?

Sunrise at the start of an ultramarathon

So, whatever happened to “that one guy?” The one with the AFIB Ultrarunner blog?

When I decided to start this blog I had, of course, scanned the internet for similar blogs, and I found AFIB Ultrarunner. This was a somewhat short-lived but excellent 2010 blog by an unnamed man who was an ultrarunner, who like me, was dealing with atrial fibrillation (AF).

Afibultrarunner” was actually the name I originally chose for this blog, but it was taken so that’s okay, I’d be simply “afibrunner.”

I’m particularly interested in contacting him for two reasons.

First of all, at the time I was starting this blog I was personally just starting to train for ultras. In fact, I went into permanent AF right at the end of a twenty mile training run while trying to train for my first 50K.  I didn’t really know how to train so I was simply running a twenty mile trail run every weekend and I truly loved those long, slow training runs; but evidently that wasn’t a good idea given what happened!

Second of all the AFIB Ultrarunner guy had had an ablation, and has an excellent description of his experience. I have never had an ablation and likely never will (I’ve been told my chances at success are poor) and wanted to find out how he did on a long term basis. At this point I’d really like to find somebody to write about the experience for this blog – but I’ve never been able to find out who he is or how to contact him.

His blog is excellent and ends, I think, on a very sad note:

My cardiac procedure was painful or uncomfortable in constantly new ways for 20 hours.  I think I took it

pretty well, but at the time I thought that that day would be amongst the worst in my life, as in up

there with losing a spouse, child or dying yourself (although this just might be my inexperience with death speaking.)  Also I tried two drugs and nothing worked. Also my condition effects my day to day life more, such as it is now harder to carry dog food from the car without an attack, and my running has suffered.

Lets hope 2011 has more adventure running, and less heart problems.

 

And that was the end. I’m curious. How’s he doing now? Still running? Still dealing with AF? Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore – he is a little secretive about his identity, although there is a photo of him during a 50 mile race but there’s no contact info. A fifty mile race while dealing with AF – not too shabby!

Hey, man, if you’re out there let me know!

Alcohol, Athletes, and Atrial Fibrillation

Alcohol, Athletes, and Atrial Fibrillation

 

Beer drinking with my buddies at Marster Springs Campground

Does alcohol cause atrial fibrillation (AF)?

We’ve been reading for years that a glass of wine or two can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke; and it’s pretty clear if you’ve been hanging around at the finish lines of marathons, ultras, and long distance bicycling events that endurance athletes like to drink alcohol. Also, some studies have shown that endurance athletes have up to a five-fold increase risk of AF

So . . . is alcohol consumption a risk factor for endurance athletes dealing with AF?

Uhh . . . yeah.

Drinking alcohol frequently raises the likelihood of developing AF,  and more alcohol means more risk. One to three drinks (considered to be “moderate drinking”) increases the chances of AF, and “heavy drinking” (four or more drinks per day) increases the odds even more. It’s been suggested that every extra daily drink increases the risk by 8%!

Even if you aren’t a daily drinker so-called binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a day, also increases the chances of AF. (Some call it “binge drinking,” I might call it any weekend during my college years!)

Typical weekend from my college days

So how much alcohol is safe? Once you’ve been diagnosed with AF one or two drinks per day is probably safe, but three or more may be likely to trigger an episode. Also – make sure you figure out how much alcohol is one drink – a standard glass of wine versus a large glass of wine. A bottle of American light beer is going to be less alcohol than a bottle of craft brew IPA or stout.

My personal advice is that once you are diagnosed with AF the best move would be to quit alcohol altogether. That’s what I did. But consider that this advice is coming from a guy who is in permanent AF.

A very helpful WebMD article advises that even with moderate drinking you should avoid drinking every day: 

Even if you drink moderately, experts suggest you take a few days off from drinking alcohol every week.

  • Limit yourself to one to two drinks a day.
  • Try to have 2 to 3 alcohol-free days every week.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have an episode of AFib within an hour of drinking alcohol.

 

Exactly how does alcohol increase the chances of AF?

It isn’t clear why, but it is thought that hit might be related to increasing vagal tone. The more alcohol you drink, the higher the vagal tone. Another idea is that dehydration caused by alcohol triggers AF. A lot of people with AF know that alcohol can trigger their AF. Let’s face it – alcohol is basically a toxin with some pleasant side effects.

If you already are being treated for AF alcohol can interfere with the treatment – increase blood pressure, interact with anticoagulants, etc.

What is “Holiday Heart”?

Basically it is a nickname for the way heavy drinking around the holidays, so called “binge drinking” can trigger AF. According to Medscape:

Holiday heart syndrome most commonly refers to the association between alcohol use and rhythm disturbances, particularly supraventricular tachyarrhythmias in apparently healthy people. Similar reports have indicated that recreational use of marijuana may have corresponding effects.

 

The most common rhythm disorder is atrial fibrillation, which usually converts to normal sinus rhythm within 24 hours. Holiday heart syndrome should be particularly considered as a diagnosis in patients without structural heart disease and with new-onset atrial fibrillation.  Although the syndrome can recur, its clinical course is benign, and specific antiarrhythmic therapy is usually not indicated. Interestingly, even modest alcohol intake can be identified as a trigger in some patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. 

Finally – what is meant by “Drinker’s Heart” (a.k.a “beer drinker’s heart”)?

That’s cardiomyopathy, a serious disease of the heart muscle, related to chronic heavy drinking. Don’t let it happen to you. It’s bad.

 

beerMPG

I would love to have any readers with comments post them below. I’d love to hear from  athlete’s with atrial fibrillation who have had experience with alcohol as a trigger. Thanks for reading.

 

Cycling and AF Blog

John’s Bike

I’d like to recommend that readers of this blog take some time to check out the Cycling and AF Blog , if you haven’t already done so.

In this easy to read blog, with generally short entries, you’ll read of the personal journey of a middle aged road cyclist /club rider from England.

His atrial fibrillation (AF) began with some vague  symptoms in 2015, eventually diagnosed as AF. Follow his personal journey dealing with alcohol, coffee, diminished cycling performance, beta blockers (and other AF drugs), two ablations (!) and an Atricip procedure.

I think readers of this blog will find his journey interesting. Based in England the healthcare system is different, as are some names – a TEE (trans-esophageal echocardiogram), for example, is a TOE (trans-oesophageal echocardiogram).

I would certainly like to learn about the Atriclip procedure – I’ll research that and post about it in the future.

Speaking of alcohol – I’m planning my next blog post to be about alcohol and AF.

I hope you enjoy the Cycling and AF Blog as much as I did.

This is me, in AF, riding around Crater Lake