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Living with MS and the Risk of Heart Disease

Reading time | 3 mins

Sooner or later, we all become aware of the organ in our chests. Either it flutters when you fall in love, beats like a drum after a good run in bad weather, or tightens in your chest when you’re faced with impending danger.

A history of heart problems

I became aware of this important organ rather early, as my family’s history with heart disease is long and varied. My grandfather on the maternal side of the family had an issue with epicardial fat around his heart, while my grandmother on the same side lived with atherosclerotic disease. My uncle had open-heart surgery aged 15, and my mother has a heart that sometimes skips a beat.

Mine on the other hand, doesn’t skip anything at all. Instead it adds a few beats per minute, so I live with tachycardia.

Heart disease is something of a curse of modern life: we work too hard, live and eat too fast, sleep too little, and don’t listen to our bodies enough. This can be managed with lifestyle changes – and if you know what warning signs to look out for. But when you live with MS, it can make things a bit more complicated.

How MS impacted my cardiovascular health

I had lived in Ireland for two and a half years when, out of nowhere, I began experiencing absurd symptoms. Excruciating facial pain and fatigue, triggered by the most basic activities. Six months later, this led to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. And the information that there was no cure yet.

To this very day, that day of my diagnosis, or “D-Day” as I call it, still feels as if it happened yesterday, despite having since gone through relapses and extensive pharmaceutical and holistic treatment regimes.

One of the side effects of having lived with MS for a decade, is that comorbidities – or multiple coexisting conditions – often occur. Yours truly is no different.

To reduce active MS relapses, I was taking various medications. I had always been skinny, but then came undesired side effects and the extra pounds found my hips faster than I could work them off. Because of physical neuropathic pain in my limbs I was unable to exercise, and not having the energy to cook meant that I gained so much weight.

This quickly became an issue on both a physical and emotional level. Non-medical events added to my stress levels, eventually leading to several hospital interventions to stabilise my heart.

Despite having had an infamously hard-to-find pulse since childhood, my resting heart rate was now racing at approximately 105 beats per minute. (Before I was diagnosed with tachycardia I used to have a healthy heartbeat of 70-80 beats per minute). My now elevated heart rate would skyrocket if I walked briskly, climbed a flight of stairs, cycled somewhere, or even cleaned the house.

Eventually, the cardiologists carried out tests to determine whether there was an additional cardiological issue. 

Keeping a finger on the pulse

Luckily, there is no sign of atherosclerosis yet. However, even while being on treatment for the last three or four years now, I still remain at risk because of the genetic link to my family’s long list of heart conditions.

Since I took early retirement, managing the symptoms of MS coupled with tachycardia means that I’ve had to lead a rather sedentary lifestyle. I have to closely monitor my stress levels and avoid certain activities or treatments that might cause nerve pain or induce cardiological issues.

The takeaway

The heart is the beating drum that makes your blood travel around your body. So it’s extremely important to look after it.

No matter if you live with a pre-existing chronic health condition or not, everyone can benefit from making smart, “heart-healthy” lifestyle choices like maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding stress, and exercising when possible.

So, why not start right now?

UK/MED/20/0055 February 2020