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Doctors' Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" - Heart Problems
These comments are made for the purpose of discussion and should NOT be used as
recommendations for or against therapies or other treatments. An individual patient is
always advised to consult their own physician.
Heart Palpitations [posted
Question: I currently take 0.15 mg of synthroid and 20 mg of Paxil. I had been
having heart palpitations and depression, so the doctor prescribed paxil. I still
occasionally have palpitations when my heart beats so fast I feel like I will pass out and
my throat feels tight. It happens at any time with no warning. I don't think they are
panic attacks. I also feel nauseous and dizzy sometimes. I feel like maybe I am not
getting enough sleep, but I sleep at least 8 hours and sometimes nap during the day.
Should this be happening while I am on these medications? What else could be wrong? I have
a 4 year old girl and an 18 month old boy who keep me busy. Could they be contributing to
Answer: Differentiating between panic attacks and different heart
rhythms is sometimes tough. Occasionally, a holter monitor or event monitor will help in
this circumstance. When you experience rapid heart beats, it will cause anxiety. Then you
get into a chicken/egg scenario. If the Paxil isn't working, I would try to get your
rhythm recorded and see if it is the cause rather than the effect. The sleep problem is
probably the Paxil.
Palpitations [posted 1/8/99]
Question: My problem started with palpitation, which made me not want to move for 2
to 3 hours. My vital signs were taken and indicated normal (they were recorded after 3
hours of my palpitation). I have had this palpitation on 3 other occasions, but each time
I was in a position to be able to lie down and after a short rest I was ok. This time
however I lied down after 2 to 3 hours and when I got up I was drained, but better. The
next day I started having this dizziness, tingling in my left foot, chills and nausea that
never left and now I live with dizziness (all the time) and nausea (sometimes). I have
done numerous blood tests, x-rays, MRI (brain), Holter monitor, ECG and in general they
all show normal. I have gone to an eye-ear-throat specialist, Lung specialist,
Cardiologist and again, in general, they all seem to think I am not suffering from
anything major, but the fact remains that I am still dizzy all the time. I recently
started to take meclizine, which helped a bit and when I ran out for one day again my
dizziness/tingling, chills, and nausea came back in a big way. It has been 7 months since
my first experience with this and it is ruining my life. My doctor seems to think that
this is a viral infection in my inner ears and has ruled out everything else. Do viral
infections last that long and would they cause tingling on you body? Could my problems be
caused by something else? I will see another Eye-Ear-Throat specialist and a Neurologist
this month to see what they can tell me. Please help me with any information that might
resolve my problem so that I can live a normal life again.
Answer: Well, we usually ascribe things we don't know/can't fix to
viruses since they are hard to diagnose and can rarely be treated. However, chronic
vertigo can be very debilitating. I know since I had it for 4-5 years in my 20s. About the
only thing you can do is symptom control. I have had one or two patients report relief
with acupuncture and it's worth a try since we have so few options.
Cardiomyopathy [posted 1/8/99]
Question: A patient with a cancerous prostate has a radical prostatectomy, which
showed no other metastasis to any other area. This patent has severe cardiomyopathy,
congestive heart failure, and a history of ventricular arrhythmias, chronic angina, with
an ejection fraction of less than 20%. Blood loss around 1400 ml. The next day, the
patient c/o numbness in left leg, cool to the touch. Patient takes 5 nitro without relief,
states he always has pain. He goes for a second surgery the next day to attempt
thrombectomy of graft. The thrombectomy was unsuccessful with no retrival of clot. (The
patient had in the past a femoral bypass and it was thought that there was either a
partial trans-section or ligation of the fem/fem graft). After surgery the patient
developed cardiac hypotension and then proceeded into cardiac arrest and died. Was this
patient a candidate for this surgery (patient was 79)? Due to age and hx. should an
alternative been used?
Answer: Most physicians would have used different treatments rather
than surgery on this gentleman if his medical condition is as advertised. Monthly
injections of drugs to block testosterone effects or radiation would be the two usual
Heart rate [posted 1/8/99]
Question: Seven years ago I had a mild heart attack. One year ago I had a six
bypass heart surgery. I am taking Captopril, lanoxin, Cordarone, Lasix, Coumadin, and
Zocor. I recently went on a diet that took my cholesterol from 352 down to 168 and my
triglycerides from 525 to 134. Now my heart rate is getting slower. It has been around 48.
Am I taking too much medicine now that my cholesterol has gone way down or could there be
other reasons? I also have atrial fibrillation.
Answer: Could be the lanoxin or cordarone doing this. Check with your
doctor, most would reduce your dosage. If this is not possible, a pacer may be in the
Heart Problems [posted
Question: Over the past year I have had infrequent episodes
of dizziness. When it happens, I get a lump in my throat, and feel like I am going to pass
out. This only lasts for 15 to 20 seconds, and repeats over a period of three to four
hours about four or five times.When I had my last checkup I mentioned it to my doctor. He
had me take a heart scan, ekg, stress test and heart echo. The scan and echo showed
nothing bad, but when I was on the treadmill, he said it showed atrial fibrillation. He
put me in the hospital and started lanoxin and procan sr, along with a heart monitor for
two days. The heart beat was steady, but slow, and I have had no symptoms. He prescribed
lanoxin once per day, and 2000mg of proconaid twice a day. I feel like I am over
medicated. Should I take that much medicine? I should also tell you I take .15 mg of
synthroid daily, but a blood test in the hospital showed that my thyroid was normal with
this medication. I saw another doctor before I took all of those tests, and he said he
thought it was caused by my stomach and put me on percolec (sp)one per day., to control
stomach acid. Where am I in this whole mess?
Answer: Procaineamide is not a drug most
physicians use for atrial fibrillation. Digoxin, beta blockers and then cardarone is the
usual sequence. See a cardiologist. I suspect you are procaine toxic without any clear
Two Conflicting Opinions [posted
Question: Since 1995 I have had two cardiac arrests, angioplasty, stent and finally
a double bypass. Six months after the bypass I was visiting my son in another city and had
symptoms very similar to those I had at the initial onset of my disease. I went to the
hospital there and the cardiologist told me I had a "really bad heart". When I
returned home to my own dr., he assured me I was good for another 10 years. I just want to
try to understand why two highly trained professionals in the same field can come up with
two very different conclusions after viewing the results of the same tests which I had
while I was in the hospital. It seems to affect my outlook on the future. I have always
been very independent, and I don't like just sitting around! Thank you.
Answer: The outlook for your heart varies with the current amount of
damage to your heart and the level of stenosis of the arteries. We measure strength of the
heart by ejection fraction. A normal one is 55-60% and it declines with age;but, the
higher the better. Anything over 30% is necessary for a bypass(which you have had) and in
reality, you need a pretty good heart to get off the bypass machine. Ask your doctor what
your ejection fraction is, an important number to know.
Treatments for Enlarged Heart [posted
Question: Can drugs actually reduce the size of an enlarged heart?
Answer: Several drugs can reduce left ventricular hypertrophy. The beta blockers
and ACE inhibitors are usually two of the best.
Atenolol, Weight Gain, & Fatigue [posted
Question: I was born with a murmur and a hole in my heart, the hole is almost gone,
but I still have a murmur. I was also diagnosed with Mitro Valve Prolapse approximately
one year ago and my doctor prescribed Atenolol for me, I take 75mgs each night. My concern
is the weight that I have gained since I have been on this medicine. I weighed 145lbs. for
as long as I can remember, and now I weigh 165lbs. I'm 6' tall with a medium build. Does
this medicine cause weight gain? I also don't have any energy, something that I had in
abundance before. My other question is if I decide to become pregnant, is this safe to
take during pregnancy? If not, what do I do? I can't seem to get a straight answer out of
anyone here. Thank you for your time and consideration in answering my questions.
It's greatly appreciated.
Answer: Beta blockers usually cause major league fatigue. The Atenolol is a beta
blocker. The only reason to take it is to decrease symptoms, it will have little effect on
the long term course of your heart/mvp. If you aren't having major tachyarrthymias, I
would decrease and stop it. Sometimes the fatigue that the drug induces will cause weight
gain, it does not cause it directly. It is entirely safe during pregnancy. Also, avoid
caffeine, chocolate etc at these can make the heart more irregular.
Mitral Valve & Zestril [posted
Question: I have been diagnosed with svt, mitral valve regurgitation with moderate
leakage and mild leakage of the aortic valve. I have been taking calan Sr 180mg 1 per
day,coumadin 5mg,alprazolam.5mg as needed (no more than 2 a Day) and prozac which is being
changed to wellbutrin at my request as I am trying to quit smoking. My cardiologist has
added zestril to try to Make the flow of blood through the heart chambers easier, even
though my Blood pressure is on the low side. My last reading was 112/64. I am suppose to
start the zestril within a week, starting with 5 mg. For two weeks then increase to 10 mg.
If my blood pressure systolic reading is 90 or better. Is there another drug i could take
to maintain my heart rhythm without lowering blood pressure?
Answer: Zestril is not to control your rhythm, rather it is a drug belonging to
a class called ace inhibitors. This class of drugs decreases conversion of renin to
angiotension and dilates arteries thus reducing the cross sectional area that the heart
has to pump against. While used as a blood pressure pill, its most dramatic results are to
improve patients with decreased cardiac output. Often it will actually increase blood
pressure if your ejection fraction(a measure of heart strength-something it is useful to
know) is low. There is a similar class of angiotension receptor blockers(cozaar, diovan
and the like) which probably have similar effects. Ace inhibitors have been better tested
at this point.
Heart Problems [posted 10/28/98]
Question: I am a 54 yr old male, family history of heart attack with hight
triglicerides (450-750), cholesterol (250), very low HDL's and very high LDL's. Detected
at age 29, diet very little help. Doctor started me on 10mg of Lipitor 9/97. Within weeks
I was suffering with significant gastro-intestinal agrevation (I also have a problem with
irritable bowel syndrome, but this was significantly worse doubling me over in pain), also
started significant joint pain particularly hands and knees, also was very tired
particularly in the afternoon, all of which doctor explained wasn't likely to be related.
Within in 8 weeks Trig did drop to 250, Chol to 135, HDL and LDL's were very close to each
other, around 40, and liver function, though elevated was within range. IBS and Joint pain
subsided after several months of treatment. The latest blood tests, 8/1998 showed moderate
reversal of the the positive improvements and the doctor decided to raise the dosage to
20mg. Within three days, IBS and joint pain returned with a vengence and I am falling
asleep at my desk in the afternoon, esp after lunch (very unusal for me). Is it usual to
have to raise dosage over time to continue the effect? Are the GI, Joint Pain and tireness
among the reported side effects?
Answer: First, with your LDL so low why did he increase the dosage? Secondly,
there are other medications (Zocor for example) who tend to have different symptoms. I'd
either go back to 10 mg which looks fine or switch to Zocor, this is too aggressive
considering your side effectgs.
Complications of Amiocardone Therapy [posted
Question:What is the incidence of ARDS as a complication of Amiodarone therapy? I
am treating a patient that had a primary diagnosis of CHF and now has ARDS of unknown
etiology. I am looking for some statistics about how common this is. Thank you
Answer: Pretty small, pulmonary problems over time yes !% or so. Might check
with the company's medical division, Wyeth-Ayerst 800-934-5556.
Heart &/or Neurologic Problems [posted
Question:My mother is 87 and has suffered a massive heart attack over a year ago.
However, PRIOR to the heart attack (and persisting), she has these unusual, unchanging set
of symptoms. None of the doctor's she has seen are able to figure out the problem.
Her symptoms are:
b. a tingling or prickling sensation starting in her lower legs crawling upward....much
like a limb that has fallen asleep and is awakening
c. when the sensation travels to her head, she feels far away from everything. When spoken
to, she feels they are speaking from a great distance. This tingling or prickling
sensation moves or crawls around her head. She is greatly fatigued.
Five years prior to her heart attack, she had these symptoms. But they were infrequent
and not as strong. Now, they are chronic and greater in strength. She has a stent in one
artery. The other is 65%+ blocked. The doctors have ruled out anxiety as an underlying
cause for these symptoms. Thyroid = N. CAT SCAN = N. BP = N. If you have heard of this
syndrome, I would greatly appreciate this information.
Thank you for providing this service within your site. Sites like yours allow me an
opportunity to pool information from varioius medical sources, thereby affording a chance
that a solution may be derived at more easily than by her physcian.
Answer: First, do these symptoms have any correlation with her heart rhythm?
They certainly could be either too fast or too slow heart beats. Second, get an EEG to
ensure that they aren't an uncommon presentation of a seizure. Most of these type symptoms
would either be related to her cardiovascular system or neurologic. Get a neuro consult if
you can't find a cardiac reason.
Info on Covara for Heart Problems
Question:I am looking for any information I can find regarding the Seale cardiac
agent Covara HS. Particular interest are the contraindications and side effects.
Answer: Covera HS is a time release form of verapamil which is a calcium channel
inhibitor. The drug is designed to release a peak at about 4 am (a peak time for
coronaries) and then give steady levels through the day. Side effects include slowing of
the pulse, constipation and swollen feet. It should be used with care with any other drugs
which should be slowing the pulse(beta blockers for example) and can depress cardiac
contractility(a problem with heart failure). Other than that usually well tolerated.
Vaso Cardio Syncope [posted
Question: My daughter was just diagnosed with Vaso Cardio Syncope. Can you please
give me any information on what causes this? She has fainted a few times so they performed
at tilt table test and gave us this diagnosis. Does diet play any part?
Answer: The vagal nerve goes to the heart and is responsible for slowing the
heart rate. This is the mechanism for people fainting at the sight of blood, pain, etc.
Without further information, I can't help a lot. But, her heart rate is probably slow or
her blood pressure does not rise correctly as she stands. Support stockings, standing
slowly and a drug called florinef to expand her blood volume are the usual treatments
-but, I need more information to help.
Possible Atrial Fibrillation
Question: After researching your sight, I now think I have atrial fibrillation.
Here's my symptoms. When I have these attacks, it always starts with a strange feeling
near my thyroid then my heart just goes wild.. beating so fast and churning in my chest.
So hard you can see my whole chest vibrating. Never any pain but it's sure scarey. Finally
after a few minutes my heart will seem to stop for about 3 seconds and then go back to
normal. This is different from the fast pulse when you get scared. It happens when I'm
totally relaxed-- even once while I was asleep. I do have overactive thyroid and take
Synthroid every day. My question is, does this sound like what I have, and is it dangerous
or just something "scarey" I have to live with. Thanks so much.
Answer: Well, you need to wear a Holter monitor and decide if these are atrial
fibrillation or Paroxysmal Atrial Tachycardia. Sounds like PAT. Both need treatment, but
the treatment is lots different. Recurrent atrial fibrillation usually requires
anticoagulation to decrease the risk of stroke as the heart changes rhythms. PAT can
usually be treated with beta blockers;but, occasionally requires radioablation of aberrant
conduction tracts in your heart. Contact your doctor to determine what rhythm is present
during your spells.
Aortic Aneurysm[posted 10/9/98]
Question: My Dad at 86 was recently admitted to a hospital in So. Florida with
septicemia and they discovered an aortic aneurysm. My question: is there any drug that can
be used for the aneurysm condition and if my dad were younger is there any surgery for
that condition that is highly successful?
Answer: Beta blockers are usually used if surgery is not an option. Surgery is
usually the only option and is routinely done on patients over 80 if they have no other
contraindications if the aneurism is 5 cm or larger or growing.
Question: My father recently had a pacemaker put in. His heart doctor has him on
Zestral and Imdur. He is suppose to take 60mg of the imdur. However, the imdur makes him
dizzy and sick to the stomach. He has been cutting the pill in half and feels OK. He went
to the VA, to get the prescriptions at a lesser cost. They gave him lisinopril to
substitute the zestral and isosorbide diniprate to substitute for the imdur. Today,
980817, he had an appointment with his heart doctor. His doctor got about half mad that he
went to the VA for the lesser cost medication. The doctor took him off zestral but gave
him another prescription for the imdur. From what information I can find the lisinopril is
the generic for zestral. I can't find any information on imdur. I can find information on
isosorbide dinitrate but not on isosorbide diniprate. My father may have spelled it wrong
to me. However, what I did find says the isosorbide dinitrate should be taken with
hydralazine. But, there are "considerable side effects". Unfortunately he
doesn't have a choice for a second opinion since he lives in a small town with only one
cardiology firm for miles around. What do these medications do? Is the dosage too strong?
Do they counteract each other? Please help me give him so answers and give us both piece
of mind. Thank you.....
Answer: Lisininopril is the generic and is equivalent to Zestril, also to
Prinivil. I'm not certain why the cardiologist would be concerned since they are made by
the same firm. Isordil(isosorbide) is a time release version of nitroglycerin. Not the
same as Imdur which is once a day and usually needs to be given 2,3, or 4 times a day.
However, very similar in effect. The dizziness usually means that his blood pressure is
too low to function on this dosage of medications. Check his blood pressure at home and
especially check it immediately after he stands. Often a problem with older patients.
Isordil can be given with hydralazine;but, often produces major blood pressure drops.
Sounds like his cardiologist is being a bit of a prima donna.
Atrial Arrhythmia [posted 8/7/98]
Question: Cardiovascular status required for acceptable reduction of current dosage
of sodium warfarin (5+5+2.5 mg in 3 days) to lower dosage of coumadin (e.g., to <2.5 mg) + aspirin. Concomitant medications daily: atenolol="l25" mg, verapamil="180" mg. What would be lowest effective dosage of sodiuer arfarin if aspirin is taken concurrently?
I need to know the reason you are going this direction, recurrent symptoms is the most
common reason. High risk patients are put on combinations of aspirin and coumadin, but
usually with therapeutic range coumadin - not lowering the range as you are inquiring.
Heart Medications [posted 8/6/98]
Question: Can betapace and calan cause seizure type episodes? Do they cause mental
confusion and total lack of appetite and desire to drink? My 73 year old father recently
was put on betapace and had a fainting spell within 45 minutes of taking the drug, had a
seizure like episode, regurgitated, ended with pneumonia and a pacemaker. His mind
wandered for weeks, and he refused all nourishment and was combative. Within 2 days of
withdrawing both drugs, his appetite returned and so did his mind. His doctors call it
altered mental status - I wonder if it wasn't chemical poisoning of some degree?
Answer: Both betapace and calan can slow the heart rate. This slow pulse could
affect the circulation to the brain and appear to be a seizure - more likely a bradycardic
spell with symptomatic hypotension. Sometimes, the drug is still necessary and a pacer is
necessary to block the effects of the drug. With the rapid change after stopping the drug,
it sounds like either the drug or the lowering of his blood pressure were responsible for
his altered mentation. I would be very suspicious of drug side effects causing his
Panic Attacks or Atrial Fibrillation
Question: Now and then, I experience episodes of rapid heart beat accompanied by
dizziness, nausea, pressure in the chest, and general discomfort. Occasionally, I also
tremble and shake, but not always. I really have no fear that accompanies these attacks,
except for fear of the attack itself. I have had several ECG's that have been normal and a
24 hour Holter monitor test read normal also. Yet, I have these occasional
"spells" and sometimes my heart flutters. Without factoring in the
"fear", should the attacks be diagnosed as panic attacks or paroxysmal atrial
Answer: When you did the holter did you have a spell? If not then there is no
current diagnosis. There is a type of monitor called an Event monitor. This is worn for
long periods and turned on when you are having a spell. The only clear way to decide the
type of rhythm is to ensure that you have a monitor strip while you are having symptoms.
Then one can say whether it is recurrent Afib or whatever.
Heart Palpitations [posted
Question: I have had problems with heart palpitations for about 15 years and I am
35 years old. I don't have them continuously - the last time I had them was when my Dad
passed away in 1993 of a heart attack. I took Corgard for 2 years after that. Now I'm
having them again and my doctor prescribed Tenormin. I've had all the tests to check for
any abnormalities of the heart and everything is good. What could be causing this off and
on like this?
Answer: Hard to know for sure, but if the beta blocker works I wouldn't be
especially concerned about it.
Accessory Pathway in Heart
Question: Can you please tell me about the condition in which a person has an extra
electrical circuit in their heart?
Answer: Some patients are born with an extra electrical pathway called an
accessory pathway. This may not cause any problems, but in some patients produces very
rapid heartbeats called circus rhythms due to the circular nature of the electrical
discharge in the heart. Until about ten years ago this was difficult/impossible to treat.
However, pioneering work at the University of Michigan and others allowed electrical
ablation of the accessory pathway using radio frequency waves directed at the site of the
problem. This is very effective and some patients will experience slow conduction
afterwards and require a pacemaker, but they are a minority. They tend to run in families
and appear to be inherited in some complex way.
Heart Problem, Synthroid and Atenolol
Question: I'm asking this for a friend, age 50, whose heart has been behaving oddly
(pulse dropping on increased exertion) but has no blockage. She has been taking synthroid,
1 per day 100 mcg. What are its side effects? Now added is atenolol, a beta-blocker, 25
mg, 1 per day. What are its effect and side effects? How about in conjunction with the
other drug? We would much appreciate knowing of any potentiation or interaction of these
drugs that may produce these effects.
Answer: Atenolol is a beta blocker, known to slow pulses and is probably the
cause of the problem. The thyroid replacement would not cause the problem if her TSH is
normal and I'm sure she gets it checked occasionally.
Atrial Fibrillation, Atenolol, and
Sports [posted 7/17/98]
Question: I am a 42 year old triathlete. I began having regular episodes of rapid
heart rate, shortness of breath, chest pain, light headedness on a regular basis with
exercise. I was evaluated and found to be having problems with atrial fibrillation. As
treatment, I was placed on 25mg of atenolol. The drug has helped the afib to stop, but it
has created severe limitations in my exercising. Is there a better drug to control the
AFIB that won't impinge on my athletic performance? Can surgical procedures eliminate the
problem and the need for drugs completely?
Answer: Most of the drugs to control rate may have effects on your athletic
performance. But, digoxin and amiodarone are two possibilities. If these fail you might
see an electrophysiologist (specialized cardiologist) to see if electrical ablation is an
option. This is ablation of the electrical tract by a catheter put into the heart during a
catherization procedure which destroys electrical tracts by high frequency radio waves.
Question: I am a 32 yr. old male being treated for PSVT. I presently am taking
.25mg Digoxin/day and 50mg Tenormin/day. I am still having episodes of PSVT on occasion,
usually set off by physical activity. I am hesitant to advise my doctor due to risk of
losing my job. What other medications would possibly work in my case? Is PSVT purely a
defect that I was born with, or is there another cause? I work in a very stressful job
(Air Traffic Control).
Answer: PSVT is usually fairly well controlled with beta blockers. Increasing
the dose would be helpful if you can tolerate the side effects(fatigue, low blood
pressure, etc.). Also, verapamin(a calcium channel blocker) can be helpful. In certain
circumstances an electrical physiologist should be contacted to see if this is really PSVT
or another rhythm. These can sometimes be corrected using a catheter to ablate certain
areas of the electrical conduction system of the heart.
Heart - "P-Waves"
Question: My physician told me that my recent EKG indicated random
"P-Waves" (sounded like). What are "P-Waves"? Are they serious? I am a
hiker and runner.
Answer: P waves are the waves on the EKG that correspond to the atrial
contraction. These are followed by the QRS complex that represents the contraction of the
ventricles. The atria(Latin for door) are the top two chambers of the heart. They act as
priming pumps or turbo chargers for the ventricles; that is, they pump just before the
ventricle to inject extra blood into the ventricle and allow it to pump more blood. This
adds power to the heart much like a turbo charger. If you listen to your heart it will
usually have a classic lub-dub sound. The lub is the atria pumping blood into the
ventricle. I'm not sure what he means by random P waves. I doubt it means anything of
consequence. I suspect he means that there is an occasional beat that is not perfectly
regular. This is common and usually doesn't mean anything, but I'd have to see the EKG to
tell you for sure.
Congestive heart failure
Question: My father (age 88) has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and
emphysema (non-smoker). He takes Zestril (5 mg), Lanoxin (0.25 mg), Meclizine (12.5 mg 4
times/day), and Furosemide (40 mg) doses daily plus aspirin. He frequently complains of
dizziness. Could his dizziness be reduced or eliminated through readjustment or
elimination of his doses or addition of another drug?
Answer: First of all you'll need to determine the cause of the
vertigo(dizziness). If it is due to insufficient blood flow to the brain caused by a
narrowing of the carotid artery or low blood pressure caused by his heart
medications(easily measured ) then decreasing these medications may be of help. However,
if it is due to nerve damage, etc... then the medications will not help. Occasionally,
digoxin will produce this effect-- so a therapeutic holiday from the drug may be of
help(drug levels are also available). Discuss this with the physician and try to come up
with a plan to eliminate one drug at a time-- after he has had a proper evaluation. I'd
start with digoxin first. If eliminating the drugs doesn't help, then there is little you
can do to change the situation.
Question: I am a 60 year old male and have been diagnosed with AF since I was 30
years old. I have been having a recent bout with both irregular and fast (114/min.) beats.
My doctor has tried at least 4 different forms of Beta Blockers, none of which seem to
help. I was on Verapamil (180 mil) and Sectral (200 mil) for a number of years, and it
seemed to be sufficient. However, I began to revert to the old arrhythmia and went to a
Cardiologist. He has tried Corgard, Tiazac, and Rythmol. None have been effective. Now he
wants to try Atenolol. Is it really this hard to control AF? It's been weeks since I felt
good or have been able to resume any of my normal exercise or work routines.
Answer: No, its usually not that hard to control. Beta-blockers, digoxin,
and calcium channel blockers are all used for rate control. Occasionally, amiodarone is
used to maintain sinus rhythm if this can be restored-- usually not for rate control.
Atenolol is a beta-blocker and should not have any better effect than any other.
Combinations of beta-blockers, verapamil, or equivalent channel blockers and digoxin are
sometimes necessary. If these do not work you may need a catherization to check your
electrical system(called electrophysiology).
Question: My neighbor has experienced cardiac problems: defibrillated twice,
"coded" and revived, dangerously slow heart rate. The hospital which treated him
sent his records to the Dept. of Transportation. He is active duty military. Military
doctors treated him with beta blockers, tried a pacemaker then removed it, and the final
diagnosis is vasodepressor syncope. They say there is nothing to do for him and make light
of his symptoms. Meanwhile, the DOT revoked his license for life. Subsequently, the
military is forcing retirement; yet; they say he is not disabled. This seems excessive on
the DOTs part, to be an invasion of privacy on the hospital's part, and like a lot of
passing the buck to me. What sort of medical tests should be done on this 36 year old
relatively fit Purple Heart recipient?
Answer: Having been in the military for five years, I can sympathize with this
gent. I'd suggest a workup with a competent cardiologist. This should be no more than $600
or so if copies of the military tests are obtained. However, if he needs electrophysiology
or something exotic he can be referred back to the military-there are competent physicians
in the military the trick is getting to them. Get his congressional representatives
Right Bundle Branch Block
Question: My life insurance company re-rated my policy after they did an EKG. They
found a complete right bundle branch block. I then had a thallium stress test that ruled
out any CAD and was told that my heart looked great. The doctor said RBBB is very common
and does not cause an increased health risk factor for me. The cardiologist also confirmed
this and said my insurance rate should not be changed. Do you concur with them? Also is
there a cause for a RBBB?
Answer: Right bundle branch block is a relatively common conduction abnormality
of the heart. Abnormality refers to the frequency and cause of the condition--not
necessarily that it is pathological. That is, most people with RBBB have absolutely no
cardiac problem. Insurance companies by nature are risk avoiders. Since they have
difficulty defining the risk of RBBB they will increase your premium. That does not mean
that you have anything wrong with your heart or are at increased risk. It means that the
company cannot predict your risk to them.
Heart Quivering / Palpitations
Question: I am 50 year old female, past menopause and on hormones. Presently I am
seeing a cardiologist for a prolapsed mitro valve and an irratic heart beat tachcardia (3
times daily). I am on 50 mg daily Atenol. I also have Graves disease and am on 0.112
mg daily of synthroid (radiation was used on my thyroid). The Atenol controls my blood
pressure and helps with many of my symptoms, but not all of them. My symptoms have
worsened considerably this past year and include some periodic chest pain, rapid heart
beat, almost constant fluttering of my heart beat, occasional dizziness, loss of partial
vision for 20 min. in one eye twice this year, and night sweats that are accompanied with
vibrating in my chest and neck area that feels like my heart is humming like a motor. This
does not seem to have anything to do with emotion, exertion, etc., and occurs slightly
during the day, but happens whenever I turn over or move in the night. If I wake up in the
morning I have to literally wait about 2 minutes for this to cease. If I am ever startled,
the "motor" goes wild and makes me dizzy. I have noticed that if I physically
exert myself a great deal during the day that the nights are especially bad, waking me up
with the "humming". I felt at one time that this was due to adrenaline rush
maybe due to the Graves disease, but I am coming to believe that my heart quivers.
My cardiologist does not give me any reasons. I have an appointment next week and will
insist on having tests done. No tests have been done on me in over five years with the
exception of an EKG which came back "slightly abnormal" 14 months ago. The
doctor says that I have type A personality and to slow down, but does not let me know if
this is truly serious. The "quivering" is almost unbearable and I need to find
out what is going on. Do you recommend a specialist? Should I change doctors? Other
symptoms include a low pulse of 42-48, blood pressure normal on medication 110-70, with an
otherwise occasional jump to 170-180 over 120/125 with an extreme headache with a lot of
quivering. Also, there is quite a history of artery disease in my family.
Answer: The first question is what is your heart rate with the symptoms? If
fast, these need to be controlled. If not fast, these may be panic attacks. A holter
monitor or event monitor will help to find out. Also, patients prone to Graves
occasionally have other associated endocrine problems. An increased rate of Diabetes,
Myasthenia Gravis, or Adrenal problems, etc. Have these been checked? Start with the
holter to see your heart rate during the spells. It sounds too slow from here.
Heart - Ventricular Tachycardia
Question: I'm a 23 year old male and I was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia.
The doctors that I am seeing are recommending that I stay on a beta blocker for the rest
of my life. I was wondering if you think this is safe? I was also wondering if there are
any other options other than drugs that might cure this. Ive had an MRI that looked
normal, a heart cath that showed nothing, and an echocardiogram that looked good. The only
time this occurred and the doctors have recorded was during a thallium stress test. I also
had an episode of supra-ventricular tachycardia. If you have any information or can help
me in any way it would be very much appreciated.
Answer: Beta Blockers are common drugs used to treat many different problems.
They are very effective in treating hypertension, angina, rapid heart beats, stage fright
and occasionally anxiety. They also have similar side effects. Beta Blockers come as
selective and non-selective. The non-selective beta blockers can cause some bronchospasm
and asthma. The selective blockers can also, but much less frequently. Common side effects
to both selective and non-selective beta blockers are fatigue, slow heart rate, nausea,
nightmares and difficulty sleeping, impairment of insulin release, depression, an
occasional skin rash. These drugs should never be stopped abruptly and require a tapering
if discontinued. There do not appear to be long term side effects and patients are often
on these drugs 20-30 years. An alternative would to be referred to a cardiologist who is a
specialist in Electro-Physiology. Occasionally radio wave ablation of different parts of
the conduction system of the heart will "cure" the problem. This will need to be
evaluated with a special catherization and can only be done by specialized cardiologists.
They are available in most major cities.
Question: I have had heart flutters from time to time, especially after consuming
coffee. I am in my twenties, and also have hypoglycemia. I do not drink a lot of coffee
(three cups a week). I have also noticed that during high stress times, the flutters
happen more often. What role does caffeine and stress play in the fluttering of my heart?
Answer: Caffeine belongs to the class of drugs called methylxanthines. This
includes theobromide, caffeine and theophylline. These are a class of drugs that produces
cardiac irritability in some people. Some people are exquisitely sensitive. If the drugs
do cause irritability, I'd avoid taking caffeine in any form. Also, avoid chocolate and
tea. Be aware that decaffeinated does not mean caffeine free. Also, certain over the
counter medications (Excedrin, etc. ) contain caffeine.
Question: I'm concerned with what seems to feel like my heart stopping for an
instant. I've experienced this and have usually passed it off for palpitations. I am a 40
year old female, 145 lbs., physically active, subject to anxiety, somewhat hyper, and I
drink up to four cups of coffee a day. I had a complete physical in March and my doctor
said I should live to be 100. However, he never really tested my heart. I've read that
heart disease can go undetected, especially in women. My father had high blood pressure
and ended having a major stroke. My older sister (now 48) had open heart surgery when she
was seven to close a valve that was a birth defect. I have a brother, who also had open
heart surgery at age 18 when a company doctor detected a murmur during a routine exam. He
also had a valve defect. I am concerned with this reoccurring sense of my heart skipping a
beat. It seems to only occur when I am sitting. Should I be concerned? What could cause
this? It is not painful, but if it lasted for a longer period of time I could definitely
associate it with extreme pain.
Answer: These isolated palpitations are usually of no importance. Approximately
40-50% of the population will have an isolated extra beat every 4-5 minutes. Actually, the
ones you feel aren't the problem. It is the preceding beat that is early which gives extra
time to fill and a "big" beat is what you are feeling. Caffeine, alcohol, lack
of sleep and stress can produce these and I'd cut out the coffee for awhile and see if
they vanish. If they were any problem you would experience them with exercise and not at
rest. Your brother's history is of little relationship to your problem. Women in their 40s
and early 50s occasionally have these with estrogen withdrawal also.
Question: My father-in-law was operated on in early November 1996 for a double
bypass and the replacement of a heart valve with a pig valve. His post-operative
complications included uncontrolled blood loss, critically low blood pressure, poor
healing, etc. These post-operative conditions necessitated his stay in a critical care
unit for nine weeks, intensive care for two weeks, etc. resulting in a 2 and 1/2 month
hospitalization. He is now home, but only able to walk with assistance, and he is on a
heavy dose of diuretics. We are now hearing about the potential for congestive heart
failure. Can you explain what this is; causes, symptoms, how to preclude this condition,
Answer: Im sorry not to be able to help, but this is too complicated
without further information. Id discuss it with his physician. It would be helpful
to know the injection fraction before and after the surgery. This is a measure of heart
strength and it sounds like his is lower than before surgery.
Question: I had a heart attack in December 1996 and was given Lopressor. I
experienced breathing difficulties and was given Imdur. Breathing became even more
difficult and this raised my blood pressure to dangerous highs of 190/132. After
subsequent hospitalization I have been taken off Imdur and Lopressor and been put on
Norvasc. I also have asthma induced from industrial accident in 1981. How more effective
are the Beta Blockers compared to Calcium Channel Blockers?
Answer: Studies are currently ongoing to answer this question. Clearly, beta
blockers are more effective at preventing heart attacks. However, calcium channel blockers
are no slouch. Most patients have difficulty taking beta blockers and the side effects
block them from taking the medication. So, even though they are probably 20-30% more
effective, many people over the age of 55 cannot tolerate the side effects. We should have
better answers in about 1-2 years.
Question: I have had heart disease for a long time. I had open heart surgery for
mitral stenosis. The valve was not replaced. I developed a sick sinus and had a dual
chamber pacemaker implanted. I'm unfortunately very anxious. I'm treated with xanax.
I recently began having episodes of tachycardia (120 beats). Doctors are not concerned.
I would just like to know about the sensation which seems to be a slowing of the heart
then back to the faster beat. It reminds me of the bride I used to have, but the doctor
says it can't be. I'm almost 65 years old.
Answer: Usually the beats you feel are not f any great concern. The ones that
could kill you will not be perceived until you are passed out. What you are probably
feeling is a sinus pause. This occurs when your heart slows a bit and either the pacer
kicks in or your own intrinsic cardiac pacer. Because there is a slight pause between
beats, the heart has extra time to fill, creating and extra large beat. This gives a
feeling of a pause and then a thud or large beat. Actually, this is normal and
has no significance, but it feels like your heart is stopping.
Chronic Rheumatic Heart Disease
Question: I am a patient with CRHD with MS & AR. Besides, I had pneumonia
previously and I am currently always having a sore throat. I consulted a doctor and am now
on phenoxymethylpenicillin 500 mg twice a day for 2 weeks. I would like to know about more
the CRHD and other information which you consider is relevant for me.
Answer: Rheumatic heart disease initially results from infections due to Strep
species of bacteria. Not everyone who develops strep throat will get rheumatic valvular
disease. There appears to be genetic predisposition to rheumatic valvular disease.
Consequently, if one develops valvular disease with one strep infection-the probability of
recurrent inflammation and damage is high. So, we treat all sore throats in patients with
Rheumatic Fever, Scarlet Fever, etc. with penicillin or an equivalent.
Question: I have a 23 year old friend, who was diagnosed with Hypertrophic
Cardiomyopathy. Her father has the same diagnosis and already experienced two
hear-attacks. He is taking medication for his condition. But my friend was diagnosed with
the same condition and was told only to rest and avoid any exercise or not even to carry
her heavy school bag. She is suppose to come back for a check-up in a year, which will be
July of this year. I looked in books as far as treatment, but they only talk about
prescribing some medication (beta-blockers). Is this condition reversible or curable? What
other actions can be taken to help reduce the risk of a heart failure? This illness was
diagnosed in former Eastern Europe, and they are seeking information how this is dealt
with over here.
Answer: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disorder of the heart muscle
(myocardium), that is the result of marked thickening
(hypertrophy) of the muscle fibers, and results in poor heart function. Its
causes are several. In the elderly, long standing ">
Your friend is 23 years old, and it is therefore more likely that she has a particular
kind of HCM known as idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis, or IHSS, which results in
a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy due to abnormalities in both the electrical conduction
system, as well as pump function and motion of the heart muscle itself. This disorder is
felt to be genetic in etiology, but the exact way in which the disease is inherited in as
Patient with IHSS can experience symptoms that are due to either electrical problems or
pump problems of the heart, and include blackouts/fainting spells, dizziness,
chest pain, shortness of breath, especially with activity, and palpitations. Of even
greater concern, are the possible complications of this disorder, which include heart
injury (myocardial infarction, or heat attack), heart failure, stroke, and
cardiac electrical conduction or rhythm problems, and resultant loss of heart beat. These
patients can experience what is known as sudden death due to cardiac rhythm
problems, which can be worsened or occur with greater likelihood when the heart is
stimulated, as it is during exercise, for example. There are therapies available for IHSS,
including medications (Beta blockers, anti-arrhythmic drugs, and calcium channel
blockers), as well as surgical procedures for those who do not respond to medicines. There
are also newer therapies, including permanent cardiac pacers, and more recently,
permanently placed cardiac defibrillators, which are devices that reset the
heart rhythm if a fatal rhythm disturbance is detected. Your friend may benefit from
discussing with her physician all the therapeutic options available to patients with IHSS.
Close follow up is essential to assess response to a given therapy, and to determine what
additional therapies can be pursued.
Question: I have a friend who has heart problems and was also on Phen-fen for 3
months. They are considering doing a Cardiolite treadmill test and I am wondering how
dangerous this test is since I have heard it could be fatal. Why would they do this test
which seems to be quite dangerous when they could do an angiogram instead. I'd appreciate
an answer soon, as they may want her to have this test next week. She is 49 yrs. old and
has chest pain and SOB.
Answer: A treadmill test will give no information concerning cardiotoxicity of
fen-fen or equivalent. An echocardiogram is the best test. Angiograms are much higher
Question: What are some Diseases of the heart.
Answer: Several types-more detail would need a textbook. They are congenital,
infectious, trauma, malignancies, vascular , inflammatory, atherosclerosis, hypertensive
and a large class called other. Each sub-group will have many "diseases" listed
along with the cause and treatment.
Heart Failure & Angina
Question: I am suffering from heart failure and angina. My angina usually starts
with pain at the right side of my head,which then radiate to my jaw and my chest.
Sometimes I would just have pain at the right side of my head which would stop as soon as
I used my nitroglycerin spray. I would like to know if it is normal to have pain on the
right side of the head just before an angina attack. I have read many articles about
angina and none has listed headache as a symptom of angina. I would like to know if my
headache could be as a result of a narrow artery in my neck or my head,since my headache
is only at one side of my head. I am a sixty two year old female.
Answer: Very unusual for right sided pain. In reference to your previous
question has your gall bladder been evaluated? This would cause vomiting as well as right
sided pain-often relieved by nitro.
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