Thursday, February 11, 2010

Premature Ventricular Contractions

It’s common for a healthy woman in her twenties to experience some PVCs – extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in one of the ventricles. That’s what my doctor said when I was rejected by the blood bank for having an abnormal pulse. She wasn’t making it up; it’s true.

It’s not healthy to have more than one hundred PVCs a minute.

My family doctor was smiling when she told me what the sleep study found. Don’t judge her for giving me bad news in a light-hearted way; in this case, bad news meant good news. Knowing that my heart was working so hard to pump blood through my body, she had no doubt in her mind that I was tired because of the PVCs. My other symptoms (pain in shoulders and neck, headaches, blurred vision, etc) could also be related to my heart issue.

Woo hoo, there was finally an explanation! Unfortunately, we also had to consider why my heart wasn’t pumping well. PVCs are a symptom, not a disease, and the cause ranges from easily fixed (viral infection) to deadly (Hypoplastic left heart syndrome).

Dare I say, the news gave me pause.

The tests started right away. Remember that bulky piece of equipment I had to wear? It was a Holter monitor, a device that recorded my heart beat for 48 hours. It confirmed the PVCs that I had the night of the sleep study weren’t a fluke. My heart had thousands of extra beats over the course of two days.

Then Dr. Heart (my favourite specialist so far) put me on a treadmill and found out that my heart didn’t freak out under stress. He thought that was great news, but needed to do one more test just to check something out, as doctors often say.

I’ll never forget my first echocardiogram (basically an ultrasound of the heart). Many people cry when they see a growing fetus on an ultrasound screen. I had to choke back tears when I saw the image of my heart working so hard to keep me alive. It was obvious, even to me, that my heart was sick.

I described it to my family by doing a dance. I stood tall, stretched my arms high above my head and pumped my legs up and down as fast as I could. That was my tired heart. Except my heart couldn’t fall over when it was too tired to keep going. Well, I guess it could, but I’d be dead.

There was one more test before I got the news. An ECHO is requested by doctors to look at the structure of the heart, and it can also measure an ejection fraction (how much blood pumps out of the left ventricle with each heart beat). A MUGA scan is a more accurate way to measure the ejection fraction (EF).

A normal EF is 55 to 70 per cent. Mine was 27 per cent.


  1. NOTE - Holter monitor picture attribution: Jason7825 at en.wikipedia

  2. I bet that, even with bad news, it was still a relief to know you were on the road to a diagnosis.

  3. It was a relief. It was also validating after so many years of being treated like a hypochondriac by doctors.

  4. i'm speechless jenn.. not only that you had to endure the ignorance of medical professionals, but that it was your heart that was the cause. i'm sure that if you were a 55+ man that was overweight with the same symptoms the diagnosis would have been a lot more speedy.

  5. Barb, you're so right - because I am a young female, nobody thought to check my heart.

    Since I've been diagnosed (ans therefore concerned about heart health/diagnosis news) people have really been emphasizing the differences in heart symptoms between men and women. That makes it even more difficult to diagnose women.

  6. this might sound odd, but i really enjoy the picture of the heart.

    i am left speechless by the story, waiting for more!

  7. Lindsay, it is a cool picture, isn't it? More is on the way!