My Not-So-Crazy Supraventricular Tachycardia Update

Salty

Salty

Salty has written 381 posts on Salty Running.

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones. I love to write about racing strategy, mental training and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life. Currently training to kick off my masters career with a bang!

Painting of a heart (anatomical, not "hea...

Yesterday’s ablation gave new meaning to the term heart burn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I dedicated an entire post to my crazy heart, I explained how I came to be diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT. SVT is a heart condition in which the sufferer experiences sudden onset of rapid heart rate which can reach 200 beats per minute or more. While it is not life threatening, it sure can be scary. I am happy to report that after an often annoying, some times downright frightful ride that began when I was a teenager, I am 95% confident I am now free of SVT!

Let me explain.

I was most likely born with SVT, but it did not become apparent until I was a teenager. During my senior track season, I experienced at least two episodes. I saw a cardiologist, but because the episodes were never caught on a monitor and all my tests came back normal, I was dismissed as having some minor heart quirk and sent on my way.

I carried this attitude through most of my 30’s, believing the episodes of rapid heart rate were just a benign quirk. I even had plans to write a post here about heart palpitations in runners. Little did I know that I was about to finally understand what was going on and that this quirk was something much bigger that I had ever imagined it would be.

After an ER visit with a raging episode of rapid heart beat while I was six months pregnant, I was finally diagnosed with SVT. My electrophysiologist (a specialist in the electrical pathways of the heart) suggested I go in for a non-surgical procedure to correct the abnormality causing the SVT soon after I delivered the baby. However, I went through the final three months with no additional SVT episodes, and delivered my healthy baby girl exactly 3 months after the episode that sent me to the ER.

I diagram of one form of SVT as compared to a normal heart.

After I had the baby, I told my electrophysiologist that I wanted to wait a year before having the procedure. That way, my daughter wouldn’t be so dependent on me to nurse, and my body would be back to normal. This seemed like a great plan until I caught that stupid norovirus stomach bug that was going around, became severely dehydrated and experienced dozens of short, but intense SVT episodes over the course of a week. It was so annoying and frankly, scary that with the support of my husband, I decided enough was enough. I called my doctor and scheduled the procedure for January 30th.

The procedure is called a catheter ablation. What it is, is the doctor makes an incision into the groin and places catheters up a vein into the heart. Then, the doctor induces an SVT episode to find where the abnormality, an extra electrical pathway, is. Once located, the doctor ablates it, or burn it. This destroys the extra electrical pathway, thus curing the SVT.

Yeah, this scared the bejeezus out of me. I’m not going to lie! I was petrified. I was worried it would interfere with my ability to continue nursing my baby. I was worried about horrible complications, particularly something preventing me from training at a high level. Particularly, if I had the type of SVT they thought I had, I ran a 3% risk of needing a pacemaker when all was said and done. Eek! I also googled the procedure and let’s just say it was a bad idea! I had a couple of freak-out moments when I wanted to back out, but every time I came to the same conclusion: the SVT was not going to get better, only worse and the procedure will never be easier. So, I put my fears out of my mind and bravely went ahead with the planned procedure.

Because I am exclusively nursing the baby, I made arrangements with my electrophysiologist, the hospital and my husband to keep the baby with me during my overnight stay at the hospital. I pumped like a mad woman in the two weeks leading up to the procedure and then because the baby was with me, was able to nurse her right before receiving anesthesia.

The hospital staff were all amazingly wonderful. My doctor’s partner explained all the possible locations of the abnormal extra pathway and the risks of ablating each. The one they thought I most likely had was easy to reach with the catheter, but ran the high-ish risk of needing a pacemaker. It turned out that was exactly the kind I had. After going under I woke up to the doctors working to induce the SVT. I was groggy, but awake enough to see the catheters in my heart on the monitor and to be able to tell them when I felt the episode. They had my hear rate up above 230 bpm! They reassured me over and over that it was ok and everything was going according to plan. Once they induced the SVT, they put me back under and I awoke to learn they found the spot and ablated it with a 95% chance it was completely destroyed. Because of it’s location and the risk of causing a block which would require a pacemaker they were conservative in the amount of tissue they destroyed, which I completely appreciated!

I am so thankful I didn’t end up with one of these!

By the late afternoon I was able to walk a little bit. Only the incision site hurt a bit. It felt like a bad bruise. I was groggy and tired, but it wasn’t bad.  I had to pump one time and dump the milk to flush any residual medication out of the milk and was then able to continue nursing the baby by 5:00 p.m. My husband fed her two and a half bottles in between my last 9:00 a.m. feeding and 5:00 p.m. Everything went off without a hitch.

Right now I’m about 30 hours post procedure and feeling good. I have to be careful not to lift anything bigger than the baby for a week so I do not start bleeding from the incision site. Otherwise, I have no restrictions. I am allowed to start running again next week, but must ease back into it, more to protect my vein where the catheters went in. As far as my heart is concerned I have zero restrictions! I am as good, if not better than new!

I am so excited to finally have this behind me and now I can really look forward to staging my comeback. Look out world!

If you’re an athlete or a pregnant woman with SVT, feel free to contact me with any questions (saltyrunning [at] gmail [dot] com). I was so scared about the condition and the ablation and it would have helped me tremendously to have someone like me to talk to.

 

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29 Responses to “My Not-So-Crazy Supraventricular Tachycardia Update”

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  1. tracie says:

    so glad it is over and you are on the mend!!!!! <3

  2. Cathryn says:

    That is such wonderful news, you’re so brave!!! Really glad it went well!

  3. Mint says:

    Yay – so glad to hear it all went well. Look out world, she’s back!!

  4. Andrea says:

    I’m glad this went well for you, Salty. My mom had the same procedure 15 years ago (albeit not nursing a newborn at the same time) and no recurrence. Good health and running to you!

  5. MG says:

    Glad it went well! My husband had his 4 years ago and it seems to have worked. Funny the difference in hospital procedures – they kept him up for the whole thing, and I don’t think he’d have minded being knocked out. Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  6. Kathy says:

    Hi Salty,

    I am a runner as well and about to turn 49 in May. I’ve had episodes of afib and SVT over the past several years. I was not officially diagnosed until November when I almost passed out while running and went to the ER. I decided to go the catheter ablation route since heart rate was too low for meds. Finally had the procedure on March 3rd and doctor was able to successfully ablate all 4 pulmonary nodes. I have had a few aftershocks but nothing major so I am hoping it worked. The hardest part for me is having to be on the blood thinners (Xarelto) for the last few months. Did your cardiologist prescribe blood thinners for you? I resumed working out a week later but do not have the stamina I am used to. I seem to tire way more easily. (I have done spinning, Insanity, elliptical trainer; and swimming.) I am hoping to resume running tomorrow on the treadmill but I will not push too hard. I normally run 8 to 830 minute miles on the treadmill but am a little slower outside. It is refreshing to see your posts and encourages me to keep on pushing and not be too nervous about running again! I hope all continues to go well with your heart!

    • Salty Salty says:

      Hi Kathy! Sorry I’m just responding now. I’d love to get an update on how you’re doing if you see this. To answer your question – no, I was put on zero meds after the procedure. I’d assume you were because of the afib rather than the SVT, but I’m not a doctor so maybe not :) Anyway, hope you’re doing well! Thanks for sharing!!!

      • Kathy says:

        Hi Salty, Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately, since that last email, I have been having episodes of fast heartbeat again. I wore a holter monitor a few weeks ago and my electrophysiologist determined that I have atrial tachycardia. Apparently one of the four pulmonary nodes healed instead of forming scar tissue, which is causing the short circuit. It is not a life threatening as SVT and Afib, but it may eventually start causing afib again. Right now he put me on Cardizem, (an antiarrythmic drug and also to control my BP which has been high lately). If it gets worse, I may have to have another ablation. Unfortunately, they did tell me after the first one, sometimes people need another touch up. So, for the time being, I am on the meds, which luckily I have no side effects and has not affected my running and working out. (So glad I have my exercise to keep me sane). You are SO lucky your doctor did not put you on bloodthinners – my doctor had me on them 4 weeks before the procedure and 8 weeks afterwards. (Apparently because of risk of stroke?) Anyway, I am glad yours was a success. Thanks for getting back to me!

  7. Jen Sebring says:

    Hi! Wondering how successful your surgery was?

    • Salty Salty says:

      It’s been a year and a half and no more SVT episodes! I’m running and training at a high level and almost back to my peak fitness. I’m feeling great and really glad I made the decision to get the ablation!

  8. Noel says:

    Hi! Loved reading your post – I was also diagnosed with SVT about a year ago and this past September I had the ablation done. I am happy to say I haven’t had any other episodes since! However, I have experienced the odd heavy heart beat/skip/palpitation – I’m not sure what to call it. What was your experience in the months following your ablation? A few nights ago I was woken up by what felt like two palpitations or something to that effect. Also, I have been running again since the procedure but I find sometimes if I stop my physical activity suddenly, I will have a couple really ‘heavy’ heart beats, almost like skips or flutters. Did you experience anything like this?

    • Salty Salty says:

      Every once in a while I get bouts of bad palpitations. I have mostly given up alcohol and chocolate and that has helped. this is as recent as 2 months ago. I and the ablation on 1/30/13. I will occasionally feel a “thunk” when running, but from what my ep said, it’s my heart trying to go into the old rhythm, but failing and not something to worry about, easier said than done, I know!

  9. I have experienced the same episodes for the last few years. My last half marathon, this past Sunday, I experienced it. It lasted about 30 seconds (heart rate was 255) and then it ended, and I finished the run. Unfortunately, we’re never able to catch it while I am on a monitor. Did the doctors tell you there would be issues if they wouldn’t have been able to catch it? From your story it sounds like it got progressively worse. Is that true?

    • Salty Salty says:

      Yes. It got much worse when I was pregnant with my third child. Before it was caught on a monitor I was basically blown off that whatever it was was a “benign quirk.” This was consistent every time a cardiologist checked me out until the Er visit when it was caught on the EKG.

  10. Vaudene says:

    It’s so comforting to read this post. I work as a personal trainer and yoga teacher and have experienced exercise induced SVT’s for 3 years now. Like you – all the tests didn’t pick up anything until I was admitted to the hospital and wheeled into the resuscitation room in September after a hike. I was put on beta blockers and felt dreadful and after seeing the EP he took me off of them and now I’m scheduled for the ablation on Dec. 31st. I’m totally second guessing myself, and full of fear of the procedure and hoping I’m doing the right thing.

    • Salty Salty says:

      You are! It is certainly a serious measure, but the overwhelming likelihood is the ablation will cure your SVT and you can go about your life without fear of an episode coming on out of nowhere. If you have any questions or concerns you’d like to discuss, you can email me at saltyrunning at gmail. It’s been almost 2 years since my ablation now and I’m very glad I did it.

      • mike says:

        Was searching on line for info on heartbeat going up to 240 while running when I came across your website. I am a 54 year old male who has always been involved in sport.I have been getting all the similar episodes that you have spoken about, have been for the tests worn the holter monitor and like you nothing seem to show up. So much so that at times I begin to wonder if its in my head. I was training for triathlon last year and while I was swimming I got an episode which was similar to yours on the side of the road, I also had to calm myself which was not easy as I was alone and a distance from the shore . When I got out of the water I drove to my doctor who send me by ambulance to hospital did the tests but again everything had settled down.I was with my cardiologist before Christmas and he told me I was fine and come back in 12 months. So not feeling great since New year on medication but he appears not to want to go the ablation route. So I am just taking this opportunity to talk to someone who understands what it feels like.Thanks in advance .

        • Salty Salty says:

          When it happens in the open water that is life-threatening! That’s so annoying they are dismissing you. I’d make an appointment with a specialized cardiologist called an electrophysiologist and talk to him/her specifically about SVT or other irregular heartbeat conditions. They can do tests. They aren’t cheap and might be semi-invasive, but it’s better than not being able to swim anymore for fear of an episode and drowning!

  11. Lizzy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m in the middle of trying to get a diagnosis for recurrent but infrequent heart palpitations that sound a lot like what you’ve gone through. I’m also a runner and am planning to start a family in the next few years. I don’t know yet if I have SVT, but it sounds like it is the most likely diagnosis at this point. Your posts have been very reassuring for me.

  12. jessica says:

    Going in 2/27/15 svt ablation! N-e-r-v-o-u-s! Salty, in the time since your ablation, have you noticed an improvement in your running, or just no more episides of rapid heart?

  13. bob says:

    Good luck to you. My story/experience is very similar. but, after four ablations I can tell you they are not foolproof,nor forever. Although the “apparent” immediate success rate is quite good, what they fail to tell you is that in the longer run, about 40% turn out to be unsuccessful. So, hope you’re in the 60%. I’m desperate to find drugs that help (not cure). Best wishes from Australia. Bob

  14. Jeanette says:

    Hi Salty, I am a 52 year (young) woman who was just diagnosed with SVT, and a borderline (for my age) Mitral Valve Prolapse. I too, have experienced the “crazy” heart since young adulthood, but just passed it off as an athletic heart. I workout 4X a week (cardio, weights), and with a husband, four children and a business to run, am rarely in neutral. To further complicate matters, I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism a decade ago, with my thyroid functioning at only 1/4 of what a normal person’s does. I take Armour Thyroid (120 mil), so of course, taking a beta blocker would not be for me. Reading your post, and the comments from others with SVT makes me feel less alone. I was told that my SVT’s are becoming more frequent due to hormones, and that, more or less I am just going to have to deal with them and convince myself that they are not life threatening…yet! I am wondering if any other women out there have been diagnosed with hormone related SVT’s and if there are any holistic measures I could look into. Yams? I stopped drinking coffee months ago, and have been drinking organic Awake tea…but now I fear that even that has too much caffeine! (With the hypo., it’s difficult to get the motor going first thing in the morning…) I am feeling quite down. I just saw my cardiologist on Tuesday, so it’s taking me a bit to wrap my head around my “new normal”. Thanks for sharing your story.
    ~ Jeanette

  15. Alexandra S says:

    Hi! Your blog really speaks to me! I am 29 and became an avid runner about 3 years ago. I would love to email you but it looks like it might be easier to get in touch with you here. When I was pregnant with my first son at 24 (and in the 3rd trimester) I started to have the episodes of a rapid heartbeat….from just sitting down or simply bending over to pick something up. So weird! My nurses and midwives didn’t really seemed concerned at all. That was that. When my first son turned 16 months I decided to get off my lazy butt and start getting into shape. I never ran up until then. I really hadn’t done anything since HIGH SCHOOL! So super out of shape. I decided to get into running. The first few months I had a few episodes of the very rapid heart beat. It literally felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I went to see a doc and he said I just needed to get back into shape. I will say that once I got into good shape I RARELY had it. I even ran a half marathon and almost felt it coming on towards the very end but slowed down a bit…which helped. Some times it will hit me if I do something with high intensity like jumping up and down, burpees, things like that. Once I got into shape it didn’t really concern me anymore. THEN I got pregnant again. So now I’m 27, pregnant, and still running. I got to about 5-6 months when the rapid beats started up again from simple things (standing up quickly, bending over). I also had an irregular heart beat. I say that was stress induced but of course I have no idea. I actually went to the ER on my own (27 weeks pregnant) because I had an abnormal EKG at a patient first. I had to sit and wait for 4 hours. I was shocked that they had me sit there for that long. Anyways, they ruled out blood clots and said it could be hormones or the way baby is laying. Basically, I got no answers. I had another normal delivery and that was that.

    My cardiologist finally figured out that I have characteristics of WPW but did not diagnose me with it. He sent me to an electrophysiologist who I saw a few months after I had my second child. He had me wear a monitor (I feel like this was my 10th holter monitor!). I was wearing it one day when I sprinted with my husky pup (i’m was back to being out of shape since I was a few months post partum) and my heart rate was SUPER FAST! When I went back to see the doc he said it shot up to 220. Still, he said that he just wants to watch me since I don’t have severe symptoms and it doesn’t happen too often. I’ve got an abnormal pathway somewhere in there. He said I can continue running too but obviously watch myself. That has left me extremely hesitate to run and even work out. I bought myself a heart rate monitor for working out but it almost makes me more paranoid. I can easily get my HR up to 170-180 by just jogging. I’m hoping by getting back in shape it will go down but still! I did a spin class last week and it quickly shot up to 230 but then went back down after I slowed. I scheduled an appointment with a new doctor in a few weeks. I just want to feel confident that I can run and race again. I like pushing myself a little but I’m scared too right now. I miss running so much! I also just want a definite answer to what is going on.

    • Salty Salty says:

      Go to another electrophysiologist and get another opinion. Explain how the condition is negatively impacting your life and ask whether there are treatment options which make sense for you. You can email me any time at saltyrunning at gmail. Good luck and keep me posted!

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