A couple months ago I mentioned to my wife, “After I started giving blood regularly I’ve been getting the heart flutters a lot me often.”
And she said, “Heart flutters?”
“Yeah, you know, when your heart feels like it’s beating faster for a second or two?”
My wife informed me that this was not a normal feeling and that I should go see a doctor. Big surprise to me!
I went to the doctor and she concluded that I was probably having heart palpitations. Not unusual. About one third of people have them with some frequency.
I’d been getting mine about once or twice a week, often in association with exercise.
The doctor did a bunch of tests and found two things.
- The right ventricle of my heart is a little bigger than it should be. The ventricle is bigger so there’s more blood in it, but it doesn’t exert enough pressure to remove as much blood as it should per beat. Since it can’t pump everything out there is a slight backflow into my heart. This small disruption in my bloodflow might occasionally be causing heart flutters.
- I was suffering from acute anemia, not enough hemoglobin for my red blood cells. This was due to giving blood. One of the symptoms of anemia is heart palpitations caused by my heart not getting enough blood. There just isn’t enough of the stuff in my body to keep everything working all the time.
I asked the doctor, “What do I do? This has a small risk of a heart attack and I want to control that risk as much as possible.”
She said I should avoid things that trigger the heart palpitations and if I experienced any additional symptoms of a heart attack at the same time as the flutters I should call 9-1-1 immediately.
Haven’t had any additional symptoms yet, so I’m good on that count!
Avoiding the triggers has been… difficult.
Giving blood was the biggest one. I stopped doing that.
I’d like to continue giving blood and I still have the option of donating plasma. Plasma is the actual liquid part of your blood, not the cells. Giving just that part doesn’t lower my hemoglobin or red blood cell count so I shouldn’t get anemia afterwards.
The other two things to avoid are exercise and caffeine.
Taking out caffeine was a letdown. I survived all of college without caffeine but I’d grown to like having a cup of coffee in the morning.
I still occasionally have some caffeine but I have switched to decaf or healthier low caffeine substitutes like tea. There’s been a noticeable reduction in the frequency of my heart flutters since I stopped drinking coffee everyday.
Exercise is the weird one to cut out.
I wasn’t exactly active prior to going to the doctor for this issue. I bike to lab every day and I walk my dog, but that’s about all the exercise I get. I don’t get heart flutters doing either of those things, only when my heart rate gets elevated past 140bpm (estimate).
So it’s not like my lifestyle is really changing by stopping those forms of exercise but it is a rather strange message to hear from my doctor, “Don’t exercise.”
I feel like eventually that’ll cause problems for me. I avoid heart palpitations by not exercising, but as I get older I’ll accumulate other problems that will mostly be solved by keeping to an exercise routine. But if keeping to the exercise routine causes other problems, then what do I do?
Ultimately, this is not current Isaac’s problem. This is future Isaac’s problem. He can deal with this when I have to make those sorts of decisions.
I feel healthy with the amount of exercise I’m getting now and hopefully low bpm workouts will continue to fulfill my needs in the future.
Long story short, I have some sort of heart condition, but it’s fairly common and not dangerous as long as I don’t give blood or drink caffeine every day.
PS. This is also the 300th post on the site. Woohoo! Milestone!