Friday, June 3, 2011

Heart Study Tries to Give Me a Heart Attack

By Susan Esther Barnes

For 25 years or so I’ve been a participant in a study about heart disease called Cardia. I wrote about my most recent exam here.

I was picked for this study randomly – not because there was any reason to believe there is anything wrong with my heart. The idea is to get a bunch of folks in their early 20’s and follow them through their life, taking various measurements over time. Then, as we age and start having heart issues, they can compare their data on us over our life span, and look for correlations between the various measurements and who has heart trouble, to see if they can identify predicting factors and/or identify habits people can change to minimize their risk.

Being in the study has made me feel pretty confident about my cardiovascular system, because test results in the past have shown that I have no calcium built up in my heart, no signs of plaque buildup in the main arteries in my neck, decent cholesterol levels, etc.

I was looking forward to seeing this cycle’s test results in particular because this time they gave us a diabetes test. My father, alav hashalom, struggled with diabetes, so it’s something I think about, and want to avoid. But if I have it, or am heading in that direction, I want to know so I can start taking care of it right away.

The first page of the results, which I just received, showed my echocardiogram results. I assumed this page would just be a quick glance for me. After all, I know already that my heart is in good shape.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read, “The purpose of this letter is to let you know that one or more reported values of your echocardiogram fall in a range that requires clinical follow up for your age group or gender.” (Emphasis in bold in the original). That doesn’t sound good. I was starting to worry.

So I looked down at the chart which shows the various measurements for my heart, compared to the values Cardia considers to be worthy of a person seeking medical advice. Dimensions are fine. Septal thickness is fine. Amount of blood being pumped is fine, etc. So, what’s wrong? Add frustration to my concern. I could feel my blood pressure rising. This can’t be good for my (apparently ailing) heart.

I read the offending sentence aloud to my husband, “The purpose of this letter…” to which he replied, “So, they’re saying one or more of the values is bad but they don’t say which one?” Finally, I noticed one sentence at the bottom of the chart, in small print. It said, “Other: Mitral valve prolapse with mild mitral regurgitation.”

Oh, for goodness sake! I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse when I was in college, before I ever entered the Cardia study. As I was told at the time, and as confirmed on the Mayo Clinic website, “In most people, mitral valve prolapse isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t require treatment or changes in lifestyle.” I am one of those people. The only symptom I ever have is an occasional irregular heartbeat, but that doesn’t happen often, and it doesn’t hurt. In fact, it kind of tickles.

In other words, there is no reason to worry about these results, or to see my doctor.

So I finally got to turn the page and see that all my other results were normal, including the glucose test. I don’t have diabetes, or pre-diabetes, and my cholesterol levels are good, too. Baruch hashem.

Of course, my CT scan results aren’t in yet, so there’s still an opportunity for Cardia to try to give me another heart attack.

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