Rejoice – Not All Runners in Atrial Fibrillation Are Slow

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Moore Mountain 1/2 Marathon

The thing I enjoy most about the afibrunner blog is comments from other athletes who are dealing with atrial fibrillation. A recent comment from a runner (we’ll call him “Lon”) really caught my attention – here is a runner who, while in atrial fibrillation, was able to race at six minute mile pace (or better).

Here are some excerpts from his comments:


Way to Go!!!
Since 1983 I’ve run/jogged 59 full marathons and have suffered with A-fib on and off for the last 12 years. I’ve finished the Boston (2001 in 3:23) and NY City (2005 in 4:15) marathons while in constant A-fib while carefully monitoring my heart rate. My cardiologists encouraged me to run marathons and also triathlons. One cardiologist told me that my heart is so strong that it laughs at A-fib and that I have the heart of an olympic cyclist. For the first 6 months of this year my heart was in constant A-fib that no drugs or multiple cardioversions could put it back into normal sinus rhythm. On July 9, 2013 I had the “Wolf Mini-Maze” (at the International A-fib Center of Excellence in Indianapolis) operation done on my heart. It was a great success and my heart has been in constant normal rhythm ever since (nearly 6 months now and I’m not taking any medications). In the Mini-Maze they removed my Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) so that if my heart ever goes back into constant A-fib I will NOT meed anticoagulant therapy. As you likely know life threatening blood clots tend to form in the LAA when your heart is in constant A-fib. The risk of stroke over the life time of an A-fib patient is huge. 3 out of 5 A-fib patients will suffer a stroke in their life even while taking anticoagulation meds like coumadin. That is a statistic that your doctor will not likely tell you about. Coumadin is over rated and is simply not very effective for some people which should be a terrifying realization to anyone dealing with A-fib. Anyway, as much as I love marathons, I’m laying off the long distance jogging for a while and am just jogging 10K’s (one per moth and 3 sprint triathlons this Summer) as well as several other physical activities.
Good health to you!
Lon

I have lamented that atrial fibrillation has made me slow, while openly admitting that I started out slow – I’ve only ran, as far as I know, one six minute mile in my entire life – and that was thirty years ago.

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Finish Line – Eugene Marathon

My understanding about atrial fibrillation is that the atria no longer preload the ventricles, and most people have a decrease of about 20% of their cardiac output. While sedentary people might not even notice this athletes certainly would. I do!

But I have heard that in some patients, certain athletes, there is little change in cardiac output and atrial fibrillation will not affect performance much. Lon seems like one of these fortunate people. Lon’s point about the increased risk of stroke (even if you take your Coumadin, Pradaxa, or Xarelto) is well taken – and I’m guessing that that is why he continued to pursue an effective treatment for his atrial fibrillation.

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Finish Line – Haulin’ Aspen Marathon

But after all those marathons Lon states he is no longer running endurance events – he goes on to elaborate:

Here’s a little more. I tried not to make a long story short above. I left out mentioning that I had a radio-frequency catheter ablation in June 2010 in Seattle that worked great in keeping my heart in normal rhythm until December 2012 when suddenly for no apparent reason went into persistent A-fib. (During that 2 1/2 year period I finished 9 full marathons and 8 sprint triathlons) My heart stayed in persistent A-fib even after 4 cardioversions and large doses of amiodarone. My cardiologists in Seattle told me that I should accept my persistent A-fib and they offered to ablate my hearts pace makers (AV and SA nodes) and give me an electronic pacemaker so that my heart rate can be controlled. That told me that I needed a second opinion so I started communications with Dr. Randall Wolf in Indianapolis about his Mini-Maze procedure. After consultations with an E.D. doctor (and a championship Iron Man triathlete) who had the Mini-maze operation and was very happy with the results, I decided to get the Wolf Mini-Maze and of course I informed my Seattle cardiologists of my intentions and they said to go for it. Absolutely the main reason that I went for the Wolf Mini-Maze is that it removes the left atrial appendage which brings my risk of stroke down to that of a healthy person with a normal healthy heart while not taking any anticoagulation drugs. The fact that I now enjoy a normal heart beat is just a huge plus factor.

From 1983 until December 2012 I completed 61 full marathons a most of which ran with all out efforts (I’ve averaged sub-6 minute pace all the way). I’m now finding out that long distance running is simply not good for the heart and most likely caused my A-fib problem.

Google Dr. John Mandrola’s 18 minute video called “Cycling Wed: I told you so…”. It is very illuminating and a must see for all endurance athletes. Please check that out.
Cordially,
Lon

I don’t know much about the Wolf Mini-Maze procedure and don’t necessarily advocate it for everybody, but clearly it worked in Lon’s specific situation. Here is some information regarding the Wolf Mini-Maze.

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Finish Line – Lake of the Woods 15K

No need to Google the video by Dr O’Keefe (posted on Dr Mandrola’s blog) I have the link right HERE.

Here’s the video:

If you don’t feel like watching the eighteen minute video I will summarize it for you – Exercise is good for you but in moderation. Too much or too intense exercise causes chronic inflammation of the heart and can ultimately harm the heart (atrial fibrillation, among other risks).

But if you are an endurance athlete dealing with atrial fibrillation you already know this – surely you have had a dozen or so friends and relatives, possibly sedentary and/or obese, kindly forward you information about the study he refers to – as if to justify their seemingly wise choice to avoid marathons and triathlons and replace it by watching other people play sports on television. Yes, this study was in all the newspapers and magazines last year.

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Finish Line – Avenue of the Giants Marathon

Please understand, and I paraphrase here, that Dr O’Keefe states that exercise is good for your heart, and being obese and sedentary is bad for your heart – but that overdoing it is a problem. He didn’t say people should avoid exercising.

My choice – I understand the concept of the “law of diminishing returns” as well as the next guy; but for me, well, I enjoy long, slow trail runs and mountain bike rides more than just about anything else I can think of – so I chose to continue.

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Finish Line – Bizz Johnson 50K (I completed the 50K in atrial fibrillation)

Running and Mountain Biking with Atrial Fibrillation? Get a Road I.D.

I used the see the Road I.D. commercials while watching the Tour de France and think, “Why would anybody buy a thing like that?” That was before I went into persistent atrial fibrillation and started taking a potent anticoagulant (Pradaxa).

Now something as ordinary and routine as falling down on a trail run or crashing on a mountain bike can become a big deal – maybe even a life and death situation.

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My Road I.D. has my name, year of birth, hometown, my wife’s number and my sister’s number. Also it indicates that I am in Atrial Fibrillation, have no drug allergies, and am taking Pradaxa – an anticoagulant.

This way if I am found dead they know who I am and who to call to come pick up the bike and the body. If I’m still alive they will know about the atrial fibrillation and the anticoagulant. Pradaxa doesn’t have a reversal agent but any medical personnel will know to watch for bleeding and start an IV to push fluids. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

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Wearing my Road I.D. at a pizza parlor

I wear mine whenever I ride or run, and also whenever I drive. I take it off at work.

I was half joking when I said “if I’m found dead” but somebody (I can’t recall who) recently noticed my Road I.D. and said he wished his friend (brother-in-law?) had had one. Evidently he had gone out for a run and died out there (for whatever reason) and had no identification. Nobody knew who he was so they put the body in the morgue for the weekend. I seem to recall that the wife was out of town and they had a hard time figuring out who he was. Eventually when they started to figure out who he was and one of his children had to come from out of town to identify the body. I wish I could remember the details more clearly – but at any rate a Road I.D. wristband would simplify a situation like that.

There’s nothing special or unique about a Road I.D. – any medical alert bracelet would be fine; but a Road I.D. just seems cooler. It’s durable, comes in cool colors, and is highly customizable, it cleans up well when worn in the post work out shower, and goes on and off easily.

Atrial Fibrillation – A Visit to the Electrophysiologist

While at my previous job, at Klamath Family Practice Center, I always had easy access to an EKG. Just for the record, remember that I am a podiatrist, not a family practice physician, but if I wanted to have an EKG done I would just have a tech do one on me. I have had a fairly long history of arrhythmias, including PACs, PVCs, and even runs of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. But one day when I returned from a 20 mile trail run I was in a particularly persistent arrhythmia and I wondered if it was atrial fibrillation. I had the tech do an EKG and my suspicions were confirmed.

At that point I walked down the hall and went to see my primary care doctor, who is also one of my coworkers, and she recommended Pradaxa, gave me some samples, and made an appointment for me to see my local cardiologist, Dr. Dale McDowell.

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At Dr Martin’s Office

Dr. McDowell, with whom I have been a patient for the past twenty years, then examined me, did a stress EKG, told me to continue with the Pradaxa, and advised that I should see an electrophysiologist for consultation.

We have several cardiologists in Klamath Falls, all of whom are excellent, but we don’t have any electrophysiologists. An electrophysiologist is a subspecialty cardiologist who focuses on arrhythmias, and are the ones who performed the ablations, install pacemakers and defibrillators, and so on. I think their most common patient is probably people like me who have atrial fibrillation.

I had an appointment with David Martin, MD of Southern Oregon Cardiology and I will admit that I was extremely nervous about this appointment, because I was afraid that he would tell me I had to quit running and quit mountain biking. Or at the very least he would tell me to quit running marathons and start running 5Ks. I was also afraid that he was going to put me on a performance killing medication such as a beta blocker, or worse, recommend and ablation procedure which could be quite an ordeal.

Like other endurance athletes I often have to deal with people that really don’t understand what it is that we do, and why we do it. That’s one thing if it’s a relative, friend, or an acquaintance – but when it is somebody who is going to formulate a treatment plan that is going to affect the rest of your life, it can be a scary proposition.

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High Lakes Trail

So when I did a Google search on Dr. Martin I honestly wasn’t very interested in where he graduated from, or what he did during his fellowship – I just wanted to try to figure out if he was a runner, bicyclists, or a triathlete. The little blurb about him and the Southern Oregon Cardiology website didn’t mention anything one way or the other, but in his photograph he appeared to be a thin man, and I found that to be encouraging.

I think I even searched local race results looking for his name to no avail.

When I called to make an appointment I asked the receptionist, “Is this guy a runner, or anything like that?” She said that she had no idea.

It took a while before I can get an appointment and in the meantime I had a question. I had spent four or five months training to run an ultramarathon, the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run 50K in Wyoming. Even after I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation I continue to train for this race, which was to be my first 50K. I was getting mixed messages from people as to whether or not I should run it. My primary care physician, who is an ultra runner and has completed a couple of hundred mile races, and who happened to be signed up to run the 50 mile event at the same race, told me to run it. She said it would just take me a little longer – no problem. A friend of mine, with whom I was going to run the race and was also running his first ever 50K, and is a family practice physician in Wyoming, told me to quit complaining and get on the plane to Wyoming for the race. My cardiologist in Klamath Falls, Dr. McDowell, advised me to quit running marathons and not to consider running an ultramarathon. I have a cousin in Chicago who is an electrophysiologist/caridologist and I spoke with him on the phone – he runs marathons and his wife runs ultramarathons. He said I should run it. Another acquaintance, who is a cardiac surgeon, but have never actually examined me, said he thought it might be safe for me to run the 50K, but advised me that it is important that I agreed with my cardiologist (good advice).

If you’re keeping track, so far that is four doctors that said go ahead and run it, and one doctor, who happens to be my cardiologist, and has the biggest vote, that said not to run it. I decided to call Dr. Martin (the electrophysiologist), who would be the tiebreaker, even though I hadn’t been seen by him yet, and ask him about running that 50K.

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High Lakes Trail

I was able to get a message to him through his nurse, and then she called me back and said I shouldn’t run it. So I didn’t run it.

This is unfortunate because I had already paid for it, but when I contacted the race director she told me I would be unable to get a refund, or even a credit for next year’s event. Also, I had already bought an airline ticket Wyoming which is more expensive than you might imagine. I was able to get a partial credit for this.

I didn’t want to waste all that training so I decided to run a marathon that weekend. I found a nearby marathon in Vancouver Washington and ran that while in persistent atrial fibrillation. It was slow, but I survived, and that’s another blog article altogether.

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Vancouver USA Marathon

When I finally got in to see Dr. Martin he examined me, looked over all the EKG’s, the stress test, the chart notes from Dr. McDowell, and the lab work and spent quite a bit of time talking with me.

I’m glad that my wife came along because she wouldn’t believe me if I came home and told her that he told me, “Keep exercising like you don’t have atrial fibrillation.” He then went on to tell me, “in the future you may want to consider some moderation as far as your exercises concerned.”

That seems reasonable enough. In fact I was delighted.

The next thing he said was kind of funny. He said, “People like you are a type – ultra marathoners, triathletes, Ironman competitors . . . and you can be pretty hard on your bodies.”

“People like you are a type . . .” Well . . . that certainly is true.

In addition to clearing me to continue with my running, he advised that I did not need to take an antiarrhythmic, which probably would not be very helpful in my specific case, and didn’t recommend a rate control drug at this point in time. Furthermore, he advised me that he thought I had a low likelihood of having a successful ablation procedure given the severe hypertrophy of my left atrium and the fact that the atrial fibrillation was persistent.

He did recommend that I try cardioversion with a “one strike and you’re out” policy – that is to say it probably would not be any type of permanent solution, but it is certainly worth trying at least once. That seems perfectly reasonable to me and I went back to Dr. McDowell for the cardioversion, and was in sinus rhythm for a total of thirty-three days.

I was so pleased with my visit to see the electrophysiologist, Dr. Martin, that I wrote him a letter afterward thanking him. I hadn’t really expected that kind of empathy.

I would be interested in hearing from other endurance athletes with respect to their medical care, and how they perceived the way they were treated by their cardiologists and electrophysiologists. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Mountain Biking and Atrial Fibrillation

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Mountain Biking in Oregon – Waldo Lake Trail

I’ve just returned from a nearly three-hour long mountain bike ride, so I thought it would be a good time to write about mountain biking while in persistent atrial fibrillation (this discussion is pertaining specifically to persistent A fib meaning I am always in atrial fibrillation and don’t ever expect to NOT be in a fib; I think people who have episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation are going to have a different result).

One of my main concerns when I was first verified to have persistent atrial fibrillation was whether or not would be able to continue mountain biking. I started road riding in the early 80s, back when I still lived in the Midwest. When I moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1987 I began mountain biking. This is a great place to ride, and we have a terrific trail system at Moore Park, as well as a couple of local high mountain singletrack trails that are legal for mountain biking (Brown Mountain Trail, Rye Spur Trail). I feel real connection to these trails and have been riding some of them for over twenty-five years.

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Rye Spur Trail, Klamath County, Oregon

I didn’t use to run is much as I do now, and back in the late 80s and early 90s I would pretty much mountain bike five or six days per week. I have developed some good bike handling skills, especially since in the early days there was no front or rear suspension, and nobody really knew what they were doing anyway. We pretty much plunged our quick release seat posts down into the frame, switched to granny gear as soon as we hit dirt, and would (inappropriately) lock up our back wheels and skid down steep hills – very much discouraged in this modern era. But that’s the way it was – skills develop over time.

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One of my old mountain bikes

At any rate I have developed good skills – skills specific to these particular trails, seeing that I generally know every rock and anticipate every little drop off.

There are two issues with mountain biking and atrial fibrillation. The first, obviously, is that my cardiac output is reduced by about 15 or 20%, so naturally I am a little bit slower. People get slower when they get older, too, so there’s that to deal with as well. But the real issue, I think, is the fact that I am on a potent anticoagulant – Pradaxa. One of the disadvantages of Pradaxa is that it works really well (but the real disadvantages that it does not have a reversal agent). Clearly – there is a risk of bleeding associated with crashing your mountain bike on the trail.

I sort of doubt whether Coumadin is that much safer than Pradaxa as far as this is concerned – while it is true that there is a reversal agent for Coumadin, what is the likelihood that, if I had a major crash, I would be able to get to the emergency department in time for them to give me the reversal agent? I generally ride alone, and our trails are pretty remote. It would take a while for me to get out of there, especially if I was bleeding all over the place, or even worse, if I were bleeding into the space previously occupied by important parts of my brain.

Over the years my skills have improved and my style has changed quite a bit. At age 53 I’m no longer much of a daredevil (I never really was). Back when I was thirty and was riding about five days per week, I estimated that I had one minor crash per week, and usually one major crash per season. In all that time I think I’ve only actually hit my head once (I definitely recall a bleeding ear after crashing on a technical descent on a trail called Garbage – never liked that trail).

I have always felt that all of your instincts and reflexes are directed toward protecting the head. It’s automatic.

Of course I have worn a helmet when bicycling since 1983. I even bought a new helmet when I went into atrial fibrillation and started anticoagulation. It fits better than my old one and it’s florescent green, so hopefully I have less chance of being run over by a pickup truck.

The only time I have ever had a significant bleeding problem while mountain biking was back in 1990. I came off the trail ride and was heading around the paved road at Moore Park to the picnic area to get some water when some young guys in a pickup shouted at me, “Wrong way, dude!” I didn’t yell back at them, but I turned around and glared at them as I zipped down a little hill to the picnic area, giving them a look that said, “You talkin’ to me?” I was going pretty fast at that point and hit a speed bump that sent me skidding across the pavement for a while.

I bet those guys were impressed.

Anyway, I had a lot of road rash, was just goes with bicycling to a certain extent, but the worst thing was I had a “degloving injury” on the side of my abdomen. What that means is that part of my skin more or less stuck to the pavement while the rest of me kept moving and the skin was pulled away from the underlying tissue. It didn’t break all the way through the skin, but I developed a hematoma the size of a baseball right where the “love handle” would normally be. Twenty-three years later it’s actually still there to a certain extent, not the blood, but a big lump of scar tissue beneath the skin, and the skin over that area is still kind of numb.

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Klamath Ridgeview Trail – Moore Park

That happened with no anticoagulation – I never even took an aspirin back then. If I had a similar injury now that would’ve been a major hematoma – I might even need a transfusion.

That’s the risk. Falls are part of riding a mountain bike. I’ve been on Pradaxa for a year now and I think I’ve only had two crashes. I am so much more cautious than I used to be that I rarely ever crash, and when I do crash it usually something stupid like having mud or ice in my pedals and not been able to click out when stopping, falling over like Artie Johnson used to do on that tricycle on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. I honestly can’t say that I’ve noticed more bruising or bleeding than I would expect prior to Pradaxa. So far, so good.

I feel it is important, however, that when you’re cardiologist tells you that you probably shouldn’t be mountain biking that you do what he says. Don’t be like me. Don’t disregard your cardiologist advice. Do as I say, not as I do.

All joking aside – there is a certain risk and if you can accept that level of risk, then continue mountain biking. If not, stay off the trails.

As far as how much persistent atrial fibrillation affects my climbing, well, when I first get started it is quite difficult. After I warm up it really doesn’t seem like it’s any different than not be in atrial fibrillation. Recall that I do not take anything like a beta blocker or an antiarrhythmic – if you take medications like that your experience may definitely be different. All I take is the anticoagulant.

I’m slow, definitely slower than I was twenty-five years ago, but it almost seems like it’s within the realm of what you’d expect from being that much older. Like I said in the article about running in atrial fibrillation, it’s almost like you’re a pickup truck with a four speed manual transmission, but you can only use second and third gear. But you can still have a lot of fun in those two gears! It just takes a while to warm up.

Personally I think road biking is more dangerous than mountain biking, as far as bleeding risks are concerned. All my best crashes have been on pavement, including my best mountain bike crashes (see above). And pavement is usually where cars, driven by people who are talking or texting on smart-phones, hit you.

As far as endurance and energy output are concerned road biking, by its very nature, is easier to do in persistent atrial fibrillation that mountain biking. On a road bike you get into a groove, and have a certain steady energy output. That’s perfect for atrial fibrillation. Anybody who trail rides, especially on technical, steep trails, can tell you that mountain biking consists of a little burst of energy here, then a little short, brief period of rest and recovery here (by slow pedaling for a couple of seconds), and then hammering the pedals again to get over the next little obstacle, or whatever. That’s what’s fun about it – it’s almost like doing a puzzle. Trail riding involves a lot of little, short, anaerobic bursts of energy – and of course atrial fibrillation has diminished this ability, as far as I’m concerned.

Although, speaking strictly of endurance, I don’t think that is changed too much since I went into persistent atrial fibrillation. I can still ride for just as long as I used to be able to ride. I have found that while I have lost speed with age I have gained endurance in spite of atrial fibrillation.

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Moore Park Mountain Bike Trails

I am very interested in other mountain bikers’ experiences with atrial fibrillation, especially athletes who take rate control or anti-arrhythmic medications. Please feel free to leave comments – Thanks!

Running Alone

Even before I was in persistent atrial fibrillation I generally would like to run alone, although occasionally I run with my wife, Margo. Bike riding was different – I would often go for mountain bike or road rides with friends. At this point, however, I generally go alone so I can just keep my own slow pace.

Ninety-five percent of the running that I do is trail running, and almost all that is done with my dogs – so technically I don’t run alone. They don’t care how slow we go – they are simply glad to be out there.

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Ringo on Mount McLoughlin

Ringo is a blue healer, border collie cross and is a great trail dog. He behaves well off leash, never chases anything, and always stays with me. There are a couple of races around here that allow dogs and he always gets to go along for these events.

Our other dog, Sophie, is a husky/shepherd cross and pretty much needs to be on leash 100% of the time (otherwise she runs off after God knows what), which can be challenging for trail running. It pretty much completely eliminates Sophie as a mountain biking partner.

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Running at Lake of the Woods with Margo, Ringo, and Sophie

I often run in wilderness areas, or even remote trails near town, and sometimes worry about having a fall and getting hurt on the trail. I guess that just has to be an acceptable risk. I like to say I’d rather die in Sky Lakes Wilderness (our local wilderness) than at Sky Lakes Medical Center (our local hospital – where I am on the surgical staff) – but I feel sorry for they people who find me – imagine finding somebody on the trail . . . that big and that dead! As a precaution I always like to tell my wife where I’m going, and of course, I always have my cell phone with me. I usually take a bandanna along so I have something I can use for a tourniquet if necessary – don’t forget I am on a potent anticoagulant (Pradaxa).

I’d be interested in hearing from other runners and mountain bikers who are training while on anticoagulants and find out what type of precautions you take. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Intro – Atrial Fibrillation and Endurance Sports

It turns out atrial fibrillation is pretty common in middle-aged endurance athletes. About a year ago, when I first went into persistent atrial fibrillation I was surprised to find out how common it was in athletes, but also surprised to find out there weren’t a lot of resources on the web. I am writing this blog in order to provide information about atrial fibrillation in athletes from an athlete’s point of view only.

My purpose is not to give medical advice. I am a podiatrist employed at Klamath Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and my practice is limited to the treatment of the foot and ankle – not the heart. Cardiology is not in my scope of practice.

Also – before you ask – I don’t plan to give podiatry advice in this blog, either.

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I’m a 53-year-old distance runner and mountain biker who is in persistent atrial fibrillation. Persistent atrial fibrillation means that I do not go in and out of atrial fibrillation, like some athletes, I am always in atrial fibrillation and I am not expected to ever be out of atrial fibrillation. I am more or less asymptomatic, except for palpitations and, of course,  a slower pace, and do not take any specific treatment except for a blood thinner (Pradaxa).

I continue to enjoy marathoning, trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and any other outdoor activity for that matter. I am not sure how many marathons I have completed, but probably around fifteen. I have trained for two 50K runs, but was only able to run one of them. I was discouraged to participate in my first 50K by my electrophysiologist (more on that later). That was before he actually saw me as a patient.

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Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 and 40 Mile Trail Run – a great race that allows dogs. Here is my dog, Ringo, at the starting line.

My most recent event was the Peterson Ridge Rumble, a 20 mile trail run in Sisters, Oregon. Upcoming events include Lake of the Woods 15K, Siskiyou Outback 15K, and then the Bizz Johnson 50K in October.

I have done at least one marathon and one 50K while in atrial fibrillation, but I suspect that I have been in atrial fibrillation for at least one other previous marathon. It’s likely that I’ve been going in and out of atrial fibrillation for the past several years, and that explains a lot.

In 1994 I had open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve. At that time I was mountain biking six days per week and had severe mitral valve regurgitation and severe left atrial hypertrophy and I had a repair – no artificial valve or a pig valve – I have all the original equipment. Unfortunately the left atrial hypertrophy never resolved and as a result I eventually ended up developing arrhythmias, including a lot of PVCs and PACs, and have ultimately go on into persistent atrial fibrillation. PVCs and PACs, otherwise known as premature ventricular contractions and premature atrial contractions, are generally benign, but quite annoying arrhythmias that everybody experiences from time to time.

I am not happy (or proud) to be in atrial fibrillation, but this is what I have to deal with. I was told that in my specific case an ablation procedure would likely have less than 30% chance of being successful, and even if it were successful it would probably not be successful for more than five years.

I was never a fast runner, even in my youth and I’ve always been a big, slow runner (6′ 3”, just under 200 pounds), but now I’m ridiculously slow. But running still brings me the same joy that it always has and I plan to continue.

Pradaxa and CHADS2

The only specific treatment I take with respect to my atrial fibrillation is a blood thinner. I am on Pradaxa which for me, I believe, is a better choice than no anticoagulation, aspirin, or Coumadin (warfarin).

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Some of my Pradaxa

One of the worst things that can happen to a person in atrial fibrillation is that blood clots can form in the atria (plural of atrial), and can then release and become lodged in the brain. Since the left atrium is not really beating, and in my case it is quite enlarged, blood tends to pool here and this is perfect conditions for forming a blood clot. When a blood clot becomes lodged in the brain that is called a stroke or a cerebral vascular accident (CVA) and should be avoided at all costs. I actually met two different people, in one week, that had had strokes secondary to atrial fibrillation, and both of them were in their 50s. Both of them, regrettably, were lackadaisical about taking their anticoagulant at the time of their CVAs. Having a stroke, if you survive it, is an extreme life-changing event – definitely something to be avoided if possible.

Some people do not take any blood thinner at all. If your CHADS2 score is zero this is an option. My CHADS2 score is technically zero, but because of my severe left atrial hypertrophy my doctors think it is best that I am anticoagulated, and I fully agree.

What is meant by a CHADS2 score? Here is a link that explains, quite well the CHADS2 score:

CHADS2 on Wikipedia

Basically you get one point each for having congestive heart failure (C), being hypertensive (high blood pressure) (H), being seventy-five years of age or over (A), being diabetic (D), and you get two points if you have had a previous history of a stroke (S2). And it even spells CHADS2!

So, for example, if you are a ninety-year-old diabetic with high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, and you have already had a stroke, your CHADS2 score is maxed out at six points. Yes, you should definitely be on a blood thinner.

If you are a forty year old non-diabetic, non-hypertensive cyclocross racer who has demonstrated episodes of atrial fibrillation, but have no other risk factors, then aspirin, or no anti-coagulation at all, could possibly be an option.

If you have atrial fibrillation is important that you discuss this with your doctor and listen to what he or she has to say. I’m not giving medical advice here, I’m just explaining the system.

If your CHADS2 score is one aspirin or an anticoagulant such as coumadin may be an appropriate choice. But if your CHADS2 score is one or more you may want to be an anticoagulant such as Coumadin, Pradaxa, or Xarelto. Again, is important that you discuss this and agree with your doctor.

There are four choices regarding anticoagulation, and the choices are 1.) no anticoagulation 2.) aspirin, 3.) Coumadin,  and 4.) The newer, more expensive, but more convenient anticoagulants such as Pradaxa, Xarelto, and Eliquis.

Coumadin is relatively inexpensive, but interacts with a lot of different medications as well as a lot of different foods. I am a vegetarian and I eat a lot of green leafy vegetables which would make Coumadin a difficult choice for me. Also when I previously took Coumadin for six months after my open heart surgery I was having migraine headaches nearly every day. I rarely have a migraine since I discontinued Coumadin nearly 20 years ago. I don’t take any other medications, but if you do take other medications there’s a good chance that Coumadin may interact with them as well. Coumadin also requires frequent blood tests in order to make sure your anticoagulated at the proper level. Pradaxa and Xarelto do not require any blood tests. The disadvantage, and this is a big disadvantage, is that Coumadin is reversible if you do develop a serious bleeding episode whereas Pradaxa and Xarelto, for all practical purposes are not. It is possible that Pradaxa and Xarelto may be reversible with dialysis; but how likely is that????

Pradaxa is taken twice daily, and Coumadin and Xarelto are once daily. My doctor put me on Pradaxa after I was shown to have persistent atrial fibrillation. I have been taking it for over a year and really have had no problems. I’ve crashed my mountain bike just a couple of times and really haven’t noticed much difference as far as bleeding or bruising is concerned. But these were low-impact crashes and I realize there are some real dangers associated with anti-coagulation. It is important that you discuss this choice with your own health care provider.

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By the way – I am fully aware that there are a zillion commercials for suing the “bad drug” Pradaxa – but I am convinced, that for me, my diet, and lifestyle, Pradaxa is safer than Coumadin.