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"I Have What?!" My AFib Diagnosis Journey

Have you ever had that response to a new diagnosis? This one came out of the blue and added to my list of comorbid diseases.

In December 2021, I had an annual sleep study for my obstructive sleep apnea. In January of 2022, the sleep doctor told me that I had a very low heart rate of 39 during my study. She advised that I see my cardiologist.

A history of heart issues

I saw my cardiologist the following February.

I have a history of variant angina, or a spasm in the coronary artery that causes intermittent chest pain.1

This resulted in a myocardial infarction (heart attack) in 2001. Medication and the rare use of nitroglycerin keep it under control.

Monitoring an irregular heartbeat

The cardiologist was not worried about my low heart rate until I reported symptoms. I described them as sudden shortness of breath and feeling like my chest was hollow. This would last a few seconds (felt like hours!), and then I would feel a BAM in my heart and all would return to normal. I would rest and then resume my activity.

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We thought it might be premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), which is when the electrical signal that starts your heartbeat comes from a lower heart chamber instead of the top, causing an irregular heartbeat.2

She placed a 2-week monitor on me with instructions to push a button if I felt those feelings. I pushed the button several times during those 2 weeks. Then I sent in my monitor and waited.

A diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AFib)

When I returned for my follow-up visit, the cardiologist said my heart rate was normal and there were no PVCs outside of normal. Whew! However (argh, I hate that word!), I was totally unprepared for what she said next.

I had a long run of asymptomatic atrial fibrillation!

As a registered nurse, I knew what was coming. When the atria do not contract normally, the blood pools and forms clots. When the regular rhythm returns, those blood clots can be pushed into the blood stream and cause heart, lung, and brain issues. Therefore, I was placed on Eliquis, a blood thinner, to prevent blood clots.3

Managing multiple conditions and medications

Unfortunately, I had to stop my Celebrex, which I take for osteoarthritis and back pain. No NSAIDS allowed, including Celebrex, ibuprofen, and Aleve — only acetaminophen. In addition, there was a delay in starting my new rheumatoid arthritis medication.

While my heart was fine, the rest of me was in a lot of pain. All my joints hurt and my back was very angry at me! Moving and driving were a huge struggle. After 2 infusions of my rheumatoid arthritis medication, everything settled down to the usual level of pain (4 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 10).

Learning how to journey with AFib

The comorbid diseases we have seem to all be affected when one disease changes. In addition to atrial fibrillation (AFib), I journey with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, variant angina, small airways disease, hypertension, back issues, depression, and osteoarthritis. Everything is connected.

Learning how to journey with AFib has been challenging. I am more aware of my heart rhythm and any "odd" feelings. Now, when I have an episode, I stop, do some deep breathing, and wait for it to pass. I am fortunate that my episodes are infrequent.

How do you journey with atrial fibrillation?

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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