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Saturday, August 14, 2004

The shape of my heart

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with WPW syndrome. The emotional impact of that subsided quite quickly due to other events in the last couple of weeks. However, some of the anxiety was rekindled yesterday evening when I went for my scheduled echocardiogram.

This was the second time I'd had an echocardiogram performed on me in three years. I knew what to expect, more or less. All it really involves is a machine (as pictured) that produces an ultrasound image of your heart and its structures. During the test you're asked to lie on your left side, while a medical technician records the images of your heart on videotape and little printouts, using a device that is placed on your chest after some "special gel" is applied to that area of your breast. During the test you hear several strange noises coming from the machine, which are actually only the sound of your blood being pumped through your heart.

According to my doctor, the result of my test shows that I have a small tear in the valve on the lower left chamber of my heart. This is causing a minor blood leak but the symptoms are not severe. I have no shortness of breath, no excessive pulmonary fluids, and no swelling of my feet or legs. Still, the doctor has prescribed a common beta-blocker to be taken orally once a day.

This is the first time I have been prescribed what is essentially a pill to regulate blood pressure. It will also regulate my irregular heartbeat and the occasional palpitations associated with my WPW.

I remember when my father was prescribed a similar beta-blocker. He was in his mid-50s at the time, and I was just a teenager. As I understand it, the hypertension is something I may have inherited from him. He's 75 and doing fine now. So I'm not too concerned about that. What I'm somewhat uncomfortable with is the fact that I'm not even 40 yet and here I am popping a beta-blocker a day already.

The doctor has ordered an ambulatory ECG (or EKG, as it is known here) in about 10 days time. This involves a holster with a portable recording device that is worn for at least 24 hours. You're free to move around normally while the monitor is attached. The purpose of this test is to record symptoms that are intermittent and may not have appeared during the regular ECG/EKG I had a couple of weeks ago.

Stay tuned for that adventure in the continuing saga of my WPW-afflicted bleeding heart.

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