When her heart started skipping beats, Willeke van Eeckhoutte didn’t romanticise it – she went to a cardiologist instead.
Cardiac arrhythmia, anyone? I'm trying to sell my atrial fibrillation (AF) to the highest bidder. One of you lucky customers could own all the excess heartbeats I don't need.
The heart is the engine that keeps you driving. Without petrol, you can't keep your car in working order. Without a functioning heart… well, nothing can really function.
So, if your heart regularly skips beats, speeds up without warning, or thumps at the mildest movement, it's worth visiting the cardiologist. I did, and that's how I ended up being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation - a serious arrhythmia.
As a condition, AF sounds pretty scary! But it only has to be so if you don't follow the rules for a healthy heart.
I follow a heart-healthy lifestyle
Although there are exceptions, it is mostly that simple. Heart health should be easy enough to maintain as long as you avoid bad habits that may trigger problems down the line. For example, following a balanced diet every day instead of indulging in excess carbohydrates, sugar and salt. Sadly, that's where many people go wrong, and that included the old me!
While the three substances above are by no means the only causes of cardiac arrhythmia, we should be more mindful of what we eat. And, if not what we eat, how often we move. Desk jobs can make us feel fatigued without moving much, I know. But while taking positive action may feel like a chore right now, your heart will thank you for it in the future!
After my diagnosis, I realised I needed to mind my health better. I also live with multiple sclerosis (MS) and endometriosis, so monitoring my daily well-being is vital.
My symptoms gave me all the warning signs I needed
With my heart, I was lucky enough to feel the warning signs. My electrical signals were going haywire. I had symptoms such as a pounding chest and "skipping" or "fluttering" heartbeats. Sometimes, these were joined by feeling anxious and dizzy, sweating buckets, shortness of breath, and feeling weak.
Over time, I learned that when infections, stress, and change in MS medicines join the party, they can make matters worse.
My atrial fibrillation has been an issue for as long as I can remember. I've had many stress tests in hospitals and undergone 24-hour heart monitoring. Thankfully, no urgent emergencies required long hospitalisations. Due to early intervention, my arrhythmia is well managed. I take care of myself with pharmaceuticals, regular medical appointments, and a healthy lifestyle.
In the meantime, it's easy enough to keep tabs on my heart. Many apps and devices can measure a heart's beats per minute (BPM) with reasonable accuracy.
With the help of an app, you can monitor your heart rate and check whether it's skipping beats. I still check it most days, although with some difficulty. Many medical professionals have jokingly asked if "I'm really alive," as the pulse in my wrist is so tricky to find! Thank goodness they don’t have as much trouble with the pulse in my neck!
My heart health is a life lesson, not a life sentence
Being the more intrusive illness, MS made me rethink almost my entire lifestyle - which proved hugely helpful later on. With fatigue in both conditions, I often take time to rest. Overdoing it can cause either illness to start playing up and yell for a time-out. I also avoid illegal drugs, smoking, and alcohol, which could exacerbate my MS and heart issues. But I always joke that I'm mad enough without any of those things, so I don't need nor want them.
Trust me, coffee is enough to make me the "clown in town" - at least until it impacts my heartbeat.
The way I see it, my medical issues have handed me more life lessons than life sentences. I learned that if I want a good, long existence, I need to listen to what my body tells me as and when it says it.
And so far, it has been a blast. Sometimes my body can be a mystery, but mostly it's a joy. So, bring it on. I cannot wait for the rest life has in store for me, irregular heartbeat and MS or not.
NPS-IE-NP-00662 January 2023