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When a racing heart does not let up

When Joanne started getting heart palpitations, she put it down to the rush of getting everything organised for Christmas.

It was a few weeks before Christmas when Joanne first noticed “a bit of trouble”.

“I put it down to being hot and bothered and rushing around getting everything organised so I didn’t think much of it.” She recalls picking up her son from work one day and thinking “I don’t know if I should be driving – my heart was racing, I had palpitations”. Even still, she thought a lie-down would fix that.

So it wasn’t until a few weeks later, on January 4th 2015, she sought help.

“We had lots of friends and family staying – we’d had a lovely day and were organising a BBQ dinner, and I went to get my washing in and I thought ‘ah I’ve got that funny fluttering in my heart again and don’t feel too good’. My friend said, ‘look sit down and let me feel your pulse’.”

“I was getting disorientated a bit... because my heart had been racing for quite some time.”

Joanne was concerned about leaving a house full of people, but at her friend’s insistence she agreed to see a doctor. Being around 6pm in the evening, with most clinics closed, they decided to pop up to the St John’s ambulance centre up the road.

“They immediately put me in the back of the ambulance and started checking me all over. They weren’t sure if I was having a heart attack or not… it was all very scary.”

By this stage Joanne was feeling a lot of pressure and discomfort. “I was getting disorientated a bit, not very good really, because my heart had been racing for quite some time,” she says.

The ambulance first took her to the local medical centre, but from there she was taken to Thames Hospital.

“We got there and they set me up with their machines, put a drip in to slow the heartrate down. Then they kept monitoring me with ECG and gave me a couple of doses of stuff in my arm to get the heart rate down.”

A few hours later, Joanne’s heart rhythm was back to normal and she was diagnosed with having atrial fibrillation. “It wasn’t a heart attack,” she says...

An electrical problem

Joanne had never heard of atrial fibrillation (AF) but while at hospital was given a clear, simple explanation of what it meant.

She was discharged from hospital around midnight that evening and, apart from a follow-up x-ray at the hospital, has since been followed-up by her GP.

Initially she wasn’t given medication and was told that “being young, sometimes it can come right” without medications.

“But because I was getting fairly regular flutters we decided I would go on medication. We started with the same thing that they gave me in the hospital – a beta-blocker.

“In the first year it was keeping things under control. But then I was getting an erratic heartbeat again, so I was changed to a different medication, which was okay only for the first few weeks and then I was getting racy incidents so they increased the morning dose.

“It’s quite good now, I do have racy incidents every now and then, and I’m aware of them but they do pass.”

Medication gives peace of mind

Joanne says being diagnosed with AF was a good thing because now, at least, she knows what it is and what to do about it.

She has an understanding of all her treatment options, including the medical procedure of stopping and starting the heart (cardioversion) should she get a persistent flutter. “The thing is you don’t know if this (flutter) is a bad one… is this one where you go and do that or do you just let it go?

“At least with the medication, and because it is helping control it, it’s maybe a bit more of a security,” she says.

Impact on daily life

Joanne describes her heart condition (and her story) as “pretty mild compared to what some people are going through”. But nonetheless, the AF is always there, she says.

“You are constantly aware of it and worry about taking your medication. I do struggle with that – when I have to take it – timing it so it’s consistent – I am thinking about it 24/7.

“And with my husband it’s the daily conversation – did you take your pill this morning?”

Even going on holiday now, it’s a consideration. When she booked flights to Samoa recently she was careful to ensure she had insurance cover, but with the AF being a pre-existing condition “it was a phenomenal amount extra”.

“And then you think maybe we won’t be going on holiday any more, but I didn’t think about that when we booked the holiday!

“So it does impact your daily life – you don’t realise how much, but it does.” Joanne is confident, however, that it’s all under control at the moment, with her treatment “doing the trick”.


Shared December 2016

Please note: the views and opinions of the storyteller and related comments may not necessarily reflect those of the Heart Foundation NZ.

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