We received some terrific personal feedback from readers in response to our special Heart Health Issue of two weeks ago. (If you missed it, catch up on your reading; it could save your life.)
We decided to put that issue together in hopes that maybe we could help even just one fellow roadie either avoid or discover and address (before it was too late) a heart issue he or she didn’t even know was there.
Based on your comments to the issue, there are many more of you out there just like those of us on the RBR Crew who are “very fit but not necessarily heart healthy” athletes. We’re the ones who – if we’re lucky enough to discover the issue before major damage is done – are gobsmacked when we find out that we have heart disease.
Again, we’re the lucky ones. There are many stories of super-fit athletes who drop dead because they either never had, or never heeded, the warning signs. Or they did not get regular medical checkups. (It’s telling that more than 100 voters in the Question of the Week that accompanied the special issue said that, at best, you get a physical every few year. Over 60 of you said you don’t like to go, or never go, to the doctor.)
All I can say is, please do.
And before I turn it over to the array of reader comments, I want to end on a hopeful note: Gabe Mirkin, M.D., contributed an article in today’s issue titled “Plaques in Arteries Are Reversible,” citing some recent research and lifestyle changes that can show you the way. That article follows this one in today’s lineup.
Now, on to your comments.
Kurt. H. Gering wrote:
I am loving the first bits of the series on cardiovascular disease. If it can help others, I wanted to share my story, for as a competitive cyclist without any symptoms, never would I have dreamed I would need quintuple bypass at age 52. More on my story can be found here: https://muwellness.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/cycling-on-borrowed-time-kurt-gerings-story/
In addition, video of the talk I gave on campus can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdqSau4c0o4&feature=youtu.be
Overall, my recovery went very well. One week after my surgery, I was on my bike for a short trainer ride, and I celebrated 100 days with my new arteries by riding a century. A major part of that recovery was due to the level of fitness I had achieved through cycling. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that it, quite literally, saved my life.
As far as my current status, last year I rode a little over 8,000 miles. This year I have discovered the joy that is fat biking and am already closing in on 1,000 miles for 2016.
Overall, I feel like I have been given a gift from God and in a strange way am grateful for that which I wish had never happened to me. Please do feel free to share any part of my story that you feel would be beneficial to others. I was very fortunate, and if I can do anything to raise awareness for heart disease, I am more than happy to share my experience with others.
Gene Henriksen wrote:
Another cause of heart pain while exercising can be your blood pressure medication. I have taken atenolol for years. It is actually illegal for pro riders because it slows down the heart rate. For years this allowed me to ride hard. I now also take Benicar. Without the drugs, my BP hits 225/185. When I ride now I have to maintain my effort at just below the chest pain level. No more sprinting with the group. At 74, I am OK with riding a bit slower.
Larry English commented:
Good issue! Scary though.
What it says is ‘anyone can have problems, though they may not have symptoms now.’
Arnie Lichten commented:
Thanks so much for this issue; it’s really apropos to me. Two Sundays ago, I experienced some chest pain on a climb. This Monday, I had a stent placed in my left descending artery!
Scott Smith commented:
Good issue: Checkups and regular health checks are vital tools for keeping healthy and warding off future problems as we age.
If I was sedentary now, I suspect I could be one of the many getting angina. Despite being fit from cycling, at age 60 my doctor sent me for a CT calcium scan for heart disease, because of family history with father dying of heart disease at my age. It was very expensive and not insured by Australian Medicare. Scan showed a grade 3 out of 4 for cardiac artery disease.
Sent to Cardiologist who was initially very concerned until he did the stress test. I think he expected me to collapse once I started to raise the heart rate. Surprised, he told me to keep up the cycling including racing and maxing out the efforts. Put me on statin to slow down the thickening of my arteries.
Robin Silverstein commented:
Helpful information for sure…any chance you know of women who can share such stories (I understand their symptoms and onset can differ from men).
[Editor’s Note: Female readers, if you have a story to share, please either Comment below this article, or use the Contact Us form: https://www.roadbikerider.com/contact-us]
Frank Mlinar commented:
Excellent issue. I know I have some plaque buildup because I had my carotids checked. Now when I have funny pains when not riding, I base my diagnosis on how I feel on the bike. So far so good. Based on the experiences reported, I will have to keep tabs on all rides.
Jeff Dunning commented:
Good to hear I am not alone. Unfortunately, it took a heart attack to get my attention. My cholesterol (3 years later) is 149 overall (down from 200+) and LDL is 61. A combination of all you said – diet, regular (and diverse) exercise plus better sleep and lower stress including a statin drug – keeps my heart healthy. PS: my Dad has a healthy heart but I inherited his brother’s genes. My uncle died at 47; I’m now 57!
Brian Woodcock commented:
I have had a few episodes of AF while riding, always after a swig of iced drink. My cardiologist says the esophagus is right behind the left atrium and cold drinks can lead to AF in some people; they call it “Cold Coke atrial fibrillation”. Ice cream can do it in some people too.
I have a device called an AliveCor which comes in a case for my iPhone. If I’m worried I might be in AF I place my fingers on electrodes built into the case and the iPhone records my ECG and can tell if it looks like AF. You can show the recordings to your doctor.
Bradley William Bleck commented:
I’ve had the ablation done after more cardioversions than I care to remember and with the failing of the Metoprolol and various other medications to work consitently and regularly. I get an occasional flutter now and again, with a long time in between, but I’ve also cut back on the intesity level.
I’m still logging 4,000 miles a year with a lot of climbing, often steep climbing. I don’t bother anymore trying to hang with the hammerheads beyond what I consider a reasonable measure. At 58, that’s good enough for me.
Carl Butler commented:
I am now age 61 and have been a distance runner and competitive cyclist since I was a teenager. I am pretty sure I had a few incidents of afib when I was under 30 but finally got a diagnosis of “lone afib” in my late 40s. I had to bail on 100+ rides before I finally got pulmonary vein ablation at age 55. I was told that I might have to get repeat surgery if it came back.6 years later I haven’t had any more afib.
A few times in the first years after ablation, I felt like I might be triggering afib, but it didn’t happen. I never got breathless nor did my heart rate monitor spike. It took me over a year to get my HR over 140 and by 2 years I was getting close to some of my PRs.
Since pv ablation my resting heart rate is about 45 compared to 30 previously. Why? Anyone know? Also, my upper HR limit went from 180 to 165. I still ride hard and have been fib free so I am overall very pleased with my surgery. Happy cycling!