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!

Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

Endurance Sports and Atrial Fibrillation – WHY?

starting a long run on the local PCT. We saw a bear that day – fun.

Exercise is supposed to be good for you, good for your heart, right? Then why is that endurance athletes have two to ten times the rate of developing atrial fibrillation compared to “normal” people? Is a little or moderate exercise good but excessive exercise bad? As an endurance athlete (marathons, trail running, long distance mountain and road biking) who has permanent atrial fibrillation (AF) I would certainly like to understand “WHY?”

There is a terrific article on Europace entitled Endurance Sport Practice as a Risk Factor for Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter . By internet standards it’s a long read but I will review it here.

The studies aren’t large, and male athletes predominate – but it is clear that endurance athletes have, as mentioned above – 2 to 10 times the likelihood of developing AF. It is not actually known why but it is thought that ectopic atrial beats, chronic inflammation, and larger atrial size are all risk factors.

Personally – the story checks out – I started having runs of “premature atrial contractions” years before ever going into AF, and because endurance athletes train more frequently and tend to avoid rest the atria are chronically inflamed, which leads to fibrosis (scarring) of the atrial muscle. And of course my left atrium has been severely enlarged for decades – not as much because of sports but because I had previously had mitral regurgitation (repaired surgically 1994 but the atrium never shrunk back to normal).

But even without the mitral valve issues endurance athletes tend to have enlarged atria. And we don’t rest enough leading to inflammation and scarring. The Europace article cites several studies that link long term endurance sports with AF, compared to sedentary individuals.

Moderate exercise may actually protect against AF.

Ringo after a long run – Fremont Trail

The Europace article also cites studies that show a correlation with “occupational physical activity” and AF – meaning people that have difficult, physically demanding jobs are also in the same boat as endurance athletes.

I didn’t know this – there is also a higher rate of AF related to how tall a person is – damn! I’m 6’3” (or 6’4” – depending on what year was measured.)

The article discusses, speculates, as to the mechanism of AF in the athlete’s heart but much of this is a bit technical for this blog. Feel free to explore the article if you are curious.

The typical clinical profile of sport-related AF or atrial flutter is a middle-aged man (in his forties or fifties) who has been involved in regular endurance sport practice since his youth (soccer, cycling, jogging, and swimming), and is still active. This physical activity is his favourite leisure time activity and he is psychologically very dependent on it. 

Interestingly the AF rarely occurs during running:

They almost never occur during exercise. This makes the patient reluctant to accept a relationship between the arrhythmia and sport practice, particularly since his physical condition is usually very good. The crises typically become more frequent and prolonged over the years and AF becomes persistent. Progression to permanent AF has been described by Hoogsteen et al .

Again, for me, the story checks out. I certainly recall long episodes of palpitations at rest that I now can identify as AF – until the day when it became (dreaded) permanent AF!

The article suggests that abstinence from sports is helpful for athletes having episodes of AF, although it isn’t curative. The problem, as any endureance athletes knows, is that it is nearly impossible to get us to give up our long runs, bike rides, etc.

Other therapeutic measures are also discussed – but that is a talk that is best left to the runner and the cardiologist.

Although ablation seems to be quite effective, endurance sport cessation associated with drug therapy seems to us a more suitable approach as an initial therapy, particularly in non-professional, veteran athletes.

To conclude I’m just going to quote their conclusions right here:

Vigorous physical activity, whether related to long-term endurance sport practice or to occupational activities, seems to increase the risk for recurrent AF. The underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated, although structural atrial changes (dilatation and fibrosis) are probably present. There is a relationship between accumulated hours of practice and AF risk. Further studies are needed to clarify whether a threshold limit for the intensity and duration of physical activity may prevent AF, without limiting the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.

I’d be interested in others opinions and experiences with these issues. Reading this article was a little emotional for me – like I said – the story checks out! I guess that if I knew what I know now I might have cut down a little on the endurance sports before I was forced to do so by permanent AF. Truly, for me, a day long run with my dog, on a trail, in a local wilderness area was the most enjoyable thing I can imagine. And at this point it isn’t even the AF preventing me from still doing it – it’s the  high dose of beta blocker I take for rate control – really takes the wind out of my sails.

 

 

“C’mon Boss, let’s go for a trail run!”

Update Part 2 – Atrial Fibrillation, Pradaxa Fail, Transient Ischemic Episode, Blood Clot in Left Atrial Appendage

Jimi Hendrix sang, “manic depression’s a frustrating mess.” Well, I think the same can be said of atrial fibrillation!

mountainbikingwringoRingo and Me – Photo by Ben Vallejos

It’s been a while since I have written and I have to say the last couple of months have been nerve-wracking. As I posted in a previous entry I had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) while running a couple of months ago, had a normal carotid scan, but a TEE (trans-esophageal echocardiogram) showed that I had a small blood clot in my left atrial appendage.

In other words I had a “mini-stroke” and was at risk of having a full on stroke.

pradaxa

This TIA occurred while I was on Pradaxa, a newer, novel anticoagulant. At that point I was taken off Pradaxa, started on Lovenox (low molecular weight heparin) injections, and warfarin (Coumadin), and also aspirin. I was instructed to discontinue running, and bicycling, and limit my activity to easy walks, and a repeat TEE was scheduled two months after the initial one.

I won’t hold back any longer regarding the surprise ending – I never had a second TIA “mini-stroke” (that I know of) or stroke and the follow-up TEE (trans-esophageal echocardiogram) showed that the blood clot inside my heart is now gone. Hooray!

appendagePhoto – The little cul-de-sac is the LA appendage

Just to review how this happens: when you are in atrial fibrillation your atria is beating so fast it’s like it isn’t beating at all, just sort of vibrating. There is a part of the left atrium (the “appendage”) where the blow flow is extra sluggish, and this is where clots can form. When a tiny piece of clot breaks of and goes into the brain that’s a TIA. If a big clot is present and breaks of into the brain that’s a stroke, which of course can be disabling and even fatal.

It goes without saying that I am disappointed that this occurred while I was on Pradaxa. I figured that as long as I was taking it I was safe, and I liked not having to watch my diet or have blood tests constantly. Taking Pradaxa is easy – “set it and forget it.” Now I’m on warfarin (Coumadin), a royal pain in the butt, and have to micromanage my diet constantly – this drug is not an easy choice for a vegetarian! Eating too many greens (think kale) is dangerous as is not eating enough greens. Imagine trying to eat about the same amount of kale or broccoli or spinach each day.

zaPhoto – vegan pizza

My target INR is between 2.0 and 3.0, but seeing as I have had a TIA while on an anticoagulant I am trying to keep it nearer to 3.0 or even higher (3.0 – 3.5).

The two months between echocardiograms was an era of angst – anxiety and fear – for me, especially the first several weeks. Every symptom, no matter how minor, seemed like stroke. For example – lie in bed trying to get to sleep and your hand becomes numb – normal, right? Not when you know you have a blood clot in your heart – that seems like a stroke! Jump up from bed, start testing the muscle strength in each arm and leg, recite the alphabet, smile, frown, move eyebrows up and down checking for asymmetry. Do you think I’m exaggerating?

Every once in a while a person stammers or mispronounces a word. Normal? Maybe, but not when you are obsessed with a gigantic blood clot lodging in your brain.

As far as exercise was concerned at first I was limiting myself to short, easy walks more appropriate for a non-athlete. Eventually I became a bit bolder and started doing longer (but slow, especially up hills) hikes of an hour or two. It took me three weeks (!) to bridge to a therapeutic INR, so I was on warfarin and Lovenox for all that time. Once I was off the injections I started doing bike rides – but they were on non-technical trails and were slow, especially while going uphill.

My brain never got the memo that I was no longer a long distance runner/cyclist so I still ate like I was, and consequently I’ve gained some weight.

At this point, after finding out the clot is no longer present, I have started increasing the intensity of my bike rides, but mostly I’m still doing bike rides. I haven’t yet started running again – but I will.

I am mountain biking again, but not on any trails that would be considered challenging. Well, that’s not 100% true, I guess.

awol-1-2Photo – “Adventure Without Limits?”

As far as mountain biking is concerned I am phasing out technical trails (gradually). I made a deal with my self that if I didn’t have the blood clot on the second TEE I would get a new bike – and I did. I got a Specialized AWOL, which is a “gravel grinder.” That’s sort of a cross between cyclocross bike and a loaded touring road bike – basically a bike designed for gravel or dirt roads – we have an infinite supply of these around here so I have a lot of exploring ahead of me.

As far as that blood clot is concerned I’m very pleased it has gone away – but I am not fooling myself that it is gone forever. It could return at any time. It wasn’t there when I had my second TEE, but it could actually be there right now – how would I know? How long had it been there and how many times have I had a clot in that area? There’s no telling without doing a ridiculously expensive, somewhat invasive test over and over. I guess all I can do is stay vigilant, take my meds, watch the diet, and keep on trying to run, hike, and ride, even if it is at a reduced level.

Re A-Fib: 5 Things I’ve Learned in 10 years… A Guest Post by David Grayson Lees

runmoorepark

I’m a 64 year-old road/trail runner, marathoner and weight lifter diagnosed with atrial fibrillation more than a decade ago. I’ve had three ablations and as many cardioversions, plus I’ve swallowed the usual assortment of prescription meds. Now my a-fib has become paroxysmal atrial flutter—about one episode every two weeks or so, usually lasting a few hours—and while my running days seem to be over, I still regularly make it to the gym and I’m discovering the joys of walking and hiking.

Through trial and error—plenty of each, actually—as well as a fair amount of research, I’ve come to a handful of conclusions that may be useful. While I believe them to be true, keep in mind that my observations are true for me; your experience may well be different. Finally, since I’m not a physician, nothing here is intended as medical advice.

And now: 5 things I’ve learned in 10 years of dealing with the always-entertaining world of cardiac arrhythmia.

A-Fib won’t kill you…even though a diagnosis of a-fib—and its symptoms—can be very scary, barring underlying cardiac disease, a-fib is not inherently life-threatening. And so if you have just been diagnosed, relax as best you can.

…but a stroke could. Pay rigorous attention to your anti-coagulation regimen. Even if your CHAD score is zero, at least take a low-dose aspirin every day. Personally, I find Coumadin to be a true pain, what with blood monitoring, dietary restrictions and the like. I much prefer the newer meds, especially Xarelto. It acts quickly, and as an added bonus you don’t have to be continuously concerned with your INR numbers.

martinmiro

Your EP isn’t interested in prevention. Typically, EP’s are all about fixing stuff rather than prevention. Which is weird, because unless you’re on the younger side of 40 and/or your a-fib has been freshly discovered, one ablation usually won’t do the trick. Of course, I’m grateful to my two EP’s, one rated among the best in California and the other acknowledged as one of the best in the world. It’s just that neither one has ever expressed any interest in the contours of my life, including what my exercise habits happen to be, what sorts of supplements I take, or what my days are like. Now, I’m not looking for a new best friend, but it’s clear that for them I’m a unique problem to be solved rather than a unique human being. I’m not angry about it; after all, these docs chose a field in which their major interaction with patients occurs when the patient is unconscious.

Still, I believe the implication is clear: you are pretty much on your own when it comes to figuring out how to modify your life style, exploring vitamin/mineral supplementation, and gathering the latest non-nutsy information.

(BTW, in terms of info, two websites I recommend are Dr. John Madrola and The A-Fib Report. Dr. John is a younger EP who always has a thought provoking take on new developments in a-f treatment and research and The A-Fib Report is a readable compendium of international a-f research, written in lay language. It requires a nominal membership fee that’s well worth it.)

ringobrownmtn

Supplementation could work for you. I haven’t thrown out my beta blocker (Sotalol AF, not regular Sotalol) but along the way I have had excellent results in controlling the frequency and duration of my atrial flutter episodes by supplementing with 200 mg of magnesium citrate in a pill taken at lunch and ¼ teaspoon of potassium citrate dissolved in water taken in the morning and again at dinnertime (Please note: ingesting too much potassium involves some quite severe health risks, so be careful.)

Life is good. But first, the bad news: as near as I can tell, nobody knows what causes atrial flutter. The gang of suspects spans endurance sports (!) to mysterious biochemical mechanisms that somehow encourage the formation of tissue substrates that make the electrical system of the heart go haywire. Researchers—and your EP, too–are just guessing, leaning on statistical correlations rather than employing demonstrable causal connections. Maybe cutting out caffeine will help you; maybe it won’t. Maybe abstaining from demon rum will prove to be the answer; maybe not. Obviously, if you are over-drinking, over stressing (like many of us who are into enduro sports) under sleeping or happen to be engaged in other deleterious deeds, changing your behavior is simply a good idea, a-fib or no a-fib. Just don’t expect that any one thing will be the answer.

The good news is, you can have a great life even with a-fib and a-flutter. No, I don’t love my a-flutter episodes; they are annoying and sometimes, even after a decade, still frightening. I don’t run anymore, but a long walk or a moderate—I know, I know, not my favorite word, either—hike turns out to be a lot of fun. No, I can’t put the same hemodynamic load on my heart that I used to, but I can still work up a nice funky sweat underneath the weight machines at the gym.

sob2

Besides, working out is only a part of life. My friendships, relationship with my son, work, and my love life (I’m getting married again, and I’m stoked!) are just as satisfying as ever.

Maybe more so.

Those of us with a-fib or a-flutter aren’t sick, not truly. Nor do we need to afraid.

So—live!

(Thanks to Linda for the inspiration. Thanks to you for reading.)

Atrial Fibrillation, Running, and Beta Blockers Part Two

betablockers2

The last article I wrote about beta blockers was written last Summer when I was more or less just starting the beta blocker. I had noticed a decrease in performance and exercise tolerance and when I went to the cardiologist and had an echocardiogram it was determined that my rate was going up and my ejection fraction was going down – that means my heart was pumping less efficiently and was pushing out as much blood with each beat. I was put on a low dose of carvedilol (6.25 mg twice daily) and it was thought that this would allow my ejection fraction (EF) to come back up.

When I started my EF was 55%, but when I had the echocardiogram mentioned above it was down to 45%. As noted in my last beta blocker article I suffered on runs and bike rides but felt it was worth it as I anticipated improvement.

When I returned for the follow-up echocardiogram I was extremely disappointed to learn that my EF had actually gone down to 37%. Not good.

At that point I the dosage of my beta blocker (carvedilol) was titrated up from the minimum dosage to the maximum dosage (50mg twice daily).

As you might imagine between the atrial fibrillation, the decrease in EF, and the high dose of beta blocker – running became extremely difficult. All three of these things decrease my cardiac output and, of course, that translates to poor performance. I now found I had slowed to a ludicrous pace, and honestly, running was starting to become a chore.

Running was starting to become unenjoyable; but I continued anyway.

I felt like every run was my first run after not exercising for several years, and I was walking up the most minor hills.

Last week I returned to the Heart Clinic and had yet another echocardiogram. To be honest I haven’t been feeling any better and runs still seem difficult so I decided not to even look at the screen or ask the tech about my EF as I assumed it was still poor. I’d just wait until the follow-up appointment with the cardiologist. But the tech, who knows me by now, just came out and told me – “Well, it looks like your ejection fraction is improving – it’s up to 47%.”

Well, that is good news. At least this suffering through the beta blockers is leading to some benefit.

That was just the preliminary reading, my new cardiologist (my previous cardiologist retired from clinic but still works at our hospital) interpreted the echo and said it was more like 50%!!! That’s nearly back to normal range (52-70%).

One interesting thing the cardiologist told me: she said that one would expect that people who are more athletic would have higher ejection fractions than non-athletes but in reality the opposite is often the case. I told her that my heart is so big that if my ejection fraction was too high there would be too much blood – ha ha.

hot lava

There’s something I don’t understand about echocardiograms and atrial fibrillation – as anybody who is in a fib knows some beats are better than others. It’s easy to feel that – some are short and weak and others are longer and more powerful. How, when looking at the heart with the echo machine, can you tell what kind of beat you are having?

So there is some good news. Runs are still difficult and I don’t see myself ever being completely off of the beta blocker – but hopefully a different dose in the future when my ejection fraction reaches whatever the goal value ends up being.

In my next article on running and beta blockers I will discuss “Beta Blocker Blues” and the way this unpleasant medication makes me feel fatigued and, often, quite depressed. But for now I’ll embrace the joy of knowing my ejection fraction is significantly improving and will likely get even better.