For Addy, the symptoms of atrial fibrillation used to occur quite suddenly. Usually when she had a busy day, after working, or practicing sports. ‘I then had a severe sensation on my chest. It was as if an elephant was stamping on my chest.’ That was fifteen years ago. Initially she had an episode once a month, but they came increasingly more often and became more severe. ‘My GP then said: ‘This cannot go on any longer. You have to see the cardiologist.”
The cardiologist diagnosed that Addy had atrial fibrillation and prescribed medicines for her. ‘The diagnosis came as an enormous shock. I asked myself how often it would come back. How severe it would become? At that moment it bothered me a lot.’
Children kept a close eye
Initially, Addy told her children very little about her heart disorder. ‘Of course they do know it, but my children have their own worries. I did not want to burden them with it. Fortunately, my husband was always very supportive.
Still, it was Addy’s daughter who kept a close eye on her. ‘My daughter works in cardiology and was therefore more concerned than the others. As a result of her work, she can always give me sound advice. When I kept having symptoms even with medicines, she was the one who said that I had to do something about it.’
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Ablation was the solution
So the episodes of atrial fibrillation continued to come back, despite the medicines. In atrial fibrillation, the electrical control of the heart is disturbed. Stimuli occur in the wrong places or they follow the wrong route over the heart. Addy suffered from this a lot. Therefore she underwent an ablation. With an ablation, the doctor damages the heart tissue in these places via a catheterisation. The scars that are formed block the conduction of the electrical stimuli . This intervention is often carried out on patients for whom the medication fails to relieve the symptoms.
During the ablation procedure the doctors advised Addy to continue taking blood thinners. ‘They were concerned that during the operation blood clots would be formed. This would carry the risk of an internal bleeding, but this outweighs the risk of a stroke.’ Addy did have a bleeding after the procedure, which was hard stop.
After the ablation, Addy still had one more episode of atrial fibrillation, but fortunately never again after that. She does have to take medication continuously. ‘I was very afraid of the intervention and therefore I did not dare to have it done sooner, but after the intervention I thought: ‘I should have had this done much sooner.”
‘Running was my heart and soul’
Addy had always been very active in sports. She had been running for 34 years, including half marathons, while she took care of her three children and did night shifts as a nurse. ‘That was quite a load. Certainly when you only work night shifts.’ Despite her cardiologist’s advice, Addy did not change her lifestyle immediately. ‘He said that I should continue to do sports, but no longer to make extreme demands on my body. I had to slow down, but I did not want to give up my running.’
Finally it became too much for Addy. In consultation with her doctor and employer, she therefore decided to retire at the age of sixty years. She also stopped running four years ago. ‘I should have listened to the cardiologist and stopped running. I’m a member of a walking club now, and walking gives me tremendous enjoyment.’
Do you recognise this story or do you still have questions about atrial fibrillation? Please contact your doctor.