This isn’t an atrial fibrillation link, per se, but I think it will be of interest to readers of afibrunner.com. In Wounded Heart Project Shane describes his journey from having a myocardial infarction at age 42 (and subsequent obesity) to changing and regaining his health via improved diet (whole food plant based diet – yeah!) and exercise eventually becoming a sub-four hour marathoner even though his ejection fraction remains at 37%! That’s inspiring to me – is it inspiring to you?
Vitamin D Helps with Heart Failure
I’m not certain this first item has much to do with readers of this blog – theoretically we are getting outside and getting plenty of sunshine, but a recent study showed that supplementation with high doses of vitamin D improved left ventricular structure and function in patients with chronic heart failure, although it doesn’t improve walking distance (citation below). I think the people in this study were a little worse off than a typical afib runner. In this study the non-placebo group received 4000 IU of vitamin D.
Personally, I like to supplement with vitamin D – one of two supplements that I take. I tested my vitamin D levels via a blood test several years ago and was at the low end of normal even with modest supplementation. This is interesting considering that I was running about 35 miles a week, all outdoors!
The other supplement I take is B complex – pretty standard for vegetarians.
Good news for fib runners: Exercise is good for your a trial fibrillation!
At the recent American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session & Expo, findings were presented that show exercise reduces risk of cardiovascular death and all cause death. And it appears that the more you exercise the better the outcome.
I have a citation below, but I will summarize by saying that in a European study with over 2000 patients, subjects were divided into four groups based on weekly exercise: none (38.9%), occasional (34.7%), regular (21.7%), and intense (4.7%). In a two year follow up it was determined the “regular” and “intense” group had lower death rate, improved outcomes, etc. And of course the “intense” group did better than the “regular”, “regular” did better than “Occasional,” etc.
So there you go – justification for continuing to work out with atrial fibrillation. It seems obvious but it is nice to see proof.
Vitamin D and hearth failure:
Witte KK, Byrom R, Gierula J, et al. Effects of vitamin D on cardiac function in patients with chronic HF: the VINDICATE study [published online April 2016]. J Am Coll Cardiol. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2016.03.508.
Exercise and afib:
Proietti M, Boriani G, Laroche C, et al. Physical activity and major adverse events in patients with atrial fibrillation: A report from the EURObservational research programme pilot survey on atrial fibrillation (EORP-AF) general registry. Paper presented at: 65th Annual Scientific Session & Expo; April 4, 2016; Chicago, IL. http://www.abstractsonline.com/pp8/#!/3874/presentation/42867.
Are you considering the Watchman device?
Ever since having a TIA/stroke, I certainly have thought a lot about it.
What is it? The Watchman, by Boston Scientific is a little device, sort of like a basket, that can be inserted into the left atrial appendage, theoretically blocking it off and preventing clot formation. As you probably know already, clot formation may lead to Stroke. The device was FDA approved in the US in March, 2015, and has been used in Europe since 2005.
It’s placed in the left atrial appendage via a catheter through an artery in the groin, and if all goes well the patient can discontinue their blood thinner (warfarin, etc.) within six months.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
I know I’d love to be protected from having another TIA or stroke and not have to take a blood thinner – I’m currently on warfarin + aspirin which makes bicycling, especially mountain biking, quite hazardous. But truthfully, it’s not that I necessarily want to be off the warfarin: I just don’t want to ever have another TIA/stroke. Recall that I had my event while I was already taking Pradaxa (and I never missed a dose). I just want a treatment that is going to work.
But there is some evidence to suggest the Watchman might not be as terrific as it sounds.
A recent study showed that the risk of a major bleed over the course of three years is the same with the Watchman compared to just staying on warfarin. Huh?
This is an excerpt from a Medscape article:
Patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who received a left atrial appendage closure device (Watchman, Boston Scientific) or stayed on long-term warfarin therapy had similar rates of major bleeding during a mean follow-up of 3.1 years, in pooled analysis of two randomized clinical trials. However, patients who received the device and were able to stop taking warfarin and clopidogrel at 6 months had lower rates of major bleeding from then onward, compared with patients receiving long-term warfarin.
Furthermore, in a very thoughtful, somewhat technical, article CMS Proposal on Watchman Is the Right Decision, Dr John Mandrola, a thought leader in Cardiology and Electrophysiology, agrees with the CMS proposal that “the evidence is sufficient to determine percutaneous left atrial appendage closure therapy using an implanted device is not reasonable and necessary.”
There are two major studies in the US regarding the Watchman. According to Dr Mandrola in the PREVAIL study, “Due to an excess of ischemic strokes, Watchman did not reach noninferiority in this category in the updated analysis presented to the FDA.” In PROTECT-AF study, “ischemic strokes were numerically higher in the Watchman group.” Which, ultimately, “leads one to conclude that the device is not effective.”
As for me, personally, as much as I’d like to believe the Watchman is a solution for me, the evidence, so far, is not convincing. I’m going to wait.
By the way, if any readers have experience with the Watchman PLEASE leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
“The main adverse events related to this procedure are pericardial effusion, incomplete LAA closure, dislodgement of the device, blood clot formation on the device requiring prolonged oral anticoagulation, and the general risks of catheter-based techniques (such as air embolism). The left atrium anatomy can also preclude use of the device in some patients.”
By the way – I linked a couple of articles from Medscape. I’m not certain but I think you need to be registered for that sight. Sorry.
It has often been said that drinking coffee is related to developing atrial fibrillation. How about people who already have a history of atrial fibrillation? Can coffee trigger an episode?
A recent large study from Sweden shows that coffee consumption does not increase the chance of developing atrial fibrillation, even if quite a bit of coffee is consumed.
So coffee does not cause atrial fibrillation; not in people who have no history of atrial fibrillation.
But what about people who already have a history of atrial fibrillation? Can coffee trigger recurrence of atrial fibrillation?
The answer to that is probably yes, but more research needs to be done. In this study it was found that people who already had atrial fibrillation tended to drink less coffee than people without atrial fibrillation – probably to prevent triggering the arrhythmia.
Here are some excerpts from an article, by Colleen Mullarkey, in Consultant360:
After analyzing data from nearly 250,000 individuals, researchers found no association between coffee consumption and an increased risk of AF, according to the findings in BMC Medicine.
“This is the largest study to date on coffee consumption in relation to risk of atrial fibrillation,” says lead study author Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, associate professor in the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Larsson and her colleagues investigated the association between coffee consumption and incidence of AF in two prospective cohorts who had provided information on coffee consumption in 1997 and were followed up for 12 years—41,881 men in the Cohort of Swedish Men and 34,594 women in the Swedish Mammography Cohort.
Using the Swedish Hospital Discharge, they identified 4,311 and 2,730 incident AF cases in men and women, respectively, in the two cohorts. The median daily coffee consumption was 3 cups among both men and women.
In their analysis, the researchers found that coffee consumption was not associated with AF incidence, even in more extreme levels of coffee consumption.
They confirmed this lack of association in a follow-up meta-analysis that included both of these two cohorts along with four other prospective studies, which amounted to a total of 10,406 cases of AF diagnosed among 248,910 individuals.
“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.”
While the researchers could not examine this possibility in the present study, they observed that participants who had AF at the time they completed the questionnaire about their coffee consumption drank, on average, less coffee (mean of 2 cups/day) than those who did not have atrial fibrillation (mean of 3 cups/day).
Data in the study suggests that some individuals who had AF at the start of the study may have quit drinking coffee or cut down their consumption because of an arrhythmic-triggering effect.
“Further study is needed to assess whether coffee consumption may trigger arrhythmia in patients with atrial fibrillation,” Larsson says.
Larsson SC, Drca N, Jensen-Urstad M, Wolk A. Coffee consumption is not associated with increased risk of atrial fibrillation: results from two prospective cohorts and a meta-analysis. BMC Med. 2015 Sep 23;13(1):207.
Now the next question: Does running really ruin your knees? (Ha ha)
Ringo 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Some of the people who comment on this blog seem astounded that I can still run and bike while in atrial fibrillation. This surprises me because, at this point, I feel fine. Frankly just being on a relatively high dosage of a beta blocker (Carvedilol) is much more of a hindrance to my running than being in atrial fibrillation is.
But the big difference is that I am in permanent (constant) a fib. I’m used to it. And since I started taking the beta blocker I barely even notice the irregular beat. I’m slow now, and I get light-headed when I get up, but that’s it.
But recently I read a thread on a Facebook group, Atrial Fibrillation Information Exchange, and it was a real eye opener. I have forgotten how much other people suffer with atrial fibrillation. Here is a sample of comments (with spelling corrections) left in response to thread that asked:
Wondering what symptoms you get when in afib? What others feel and deal with?
-Rapid heart rate (220+), chest pressure/pain, dizzy, irregular heart beat, feel like I am going to lose consciousness.
-First my face feels warm,then the heart starts jumping erratically, can’t take an accurate pulse-then I know!
-I get a breathlessness, my rate stays low though but the overall feeling is like anxiety or the way one would feel before giving a speech or before competing in an athletic event etc.
-Mine is rapid heart rate,palpitations and anxiety
-All of the above plus hot and cold and violent vomiting. Also, if I’m sick, vomiting can bring it on
-Feels like there is a fish swimming in my chest, also weak and dizzy.
-Sweated and like your going to pass out , irregular and rapid heart beat , drinking cold water will help me convert, after I’m exhausted even will fall asleep haven’t had one in a few years now
-Like a squirrel doing back flips in my chest
-Felt like an anxiety attack plus tight feeling in throat( like it was dry and closing up) made me cough. Light headed/ dizzy, tired.
-I’ve had 8 AFib episodes since June of 2011. It always happens when I come out of a state of rest and stand up and start to walk. Except last month all I did was hiccup and cough at the same time and it triggered my AFib. Went to the ER and had cardioversion. I’ve never felt sick, dizzy, sweaty, breathless, nothing. Just racing heartbeat with strong palpitations.
-Mine was accidentally diagnosed initially on a routine office EKG.
-I get a “sinking” feeling in my chest.
-Flopping in my chest, weak, nausea, panic, sweaty, very very uncomfortable.
-I never come out of AFib. I had a stroke 5 years ago that affected my left side. I developed central pain syndrome in my left arm. So my heart sort of hurts and I have pain in my left arm.
-Weak breathless chest tight
-I had no symptoms other than lack of sleep and then the symptoms that go along with that. And symptoms from the meds. Oh, and the stroke.
-Sometimes it’s real quick flutters, or a skipped beat, I feel weak, sluggish, my chest hurts a little, and sometimes I get flushed and feel real anxious and nervous for awhile.
-Anxious & funny feeling in chest
-It’s almost like it’s gonna be an anxiety attack, but never goes to one thank goodness
-I have had episodes so bad I thought I would die. Then while in a fib, having to urinate every five minutes. It was like my body was in total rebellion. Sudden movements can trigger. Stress is a biggee.
I need to consider myself fortunate that I am so stable and feel so normal in permanent atrial fibrillation. I can recall what it was like when I was in sinus rhythm and would go into atrial fibrillation, usually during a long run, or even during a marathon – this is how I felt: I felt like crap – weak, mild malaise, light-headed, with vague chest and shoulder pain with exertion. Not pleasant by any means.
I’m curious – how do other fib runners feel while in atrial fibrillation? Please feel free to comment below.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
(Thanks to Linda for the inspiration. Thanks to you for reading.)