Tachycardia (Fast Heartbeat)
Christine remembers fainting for the first time when she was 18. Over the next 25 years, Christine had many other fainting episodes — most of them at night. After each episode, she went to her doctor and went through several tests — all came back negative.
Doctors could not tell Christine why she was fainting — an avid runner, she was the picture of health. “Since my EKGs (electrocardiograms) had always been normal, there was no reason to think that I had a heart problem.”
As time went on and the fainting spells continued, Christine's husband, Tom, began to worry about her more and more. Because the episodes happened mostly in the middle of the night when she was sleeping, Tom would wake up to check on her and make sure she was still breathing. Finally, with Christine's blessing, Tom talked with her doctor about his concerns.
Christine's doctor referred her to a heart rhythm specialist — a doctor who specializes in treating conditions related to the electrical system of the heart. The specialist conducted a tilt table test (a test used to determine the cause of fainting spells). During the test Christine fainted, which suggested that there was an issue with her heart rhythm. The doctor recommended Christine wear a portable heart monitor to read and record her heart rhythms during her fainting spells.
“As luck would have it, five days later I fainted,” Christine says. She was able to push the button on the portable monitor to record the fainting spell just before she lost consciousness and stopped breathing. Tom performed CPR until she began breathing again. He then called 911. “He was very worried,” says Christine. The paramedics arrived and ran an EKG. The results were normal, and Christine was told to see her doctor the next day.
Christine's doctor called first thing in the morning and asked Tom to bring Christine to the hospital immediately because the recording showed that her heart had gone into a dangerously fast rhythm. Her heart's lower chambers had been contracting or beating in a rapid and disorganized way. Christine was at serious risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is not a heart attack. It occurs when the heart starts beating dangerously fast, causing it to quiver rather than pump blood to the body and brain.
Further testing showed that Christine had a condition called Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). This condition is a rare, and sometimes fatal, heart rhythm disorder that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.
Because Christine was now at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, her doctor said she would need an implantable defibrillator as soon as possible. An implantable defibrillator would provide lifesaving shock therapy if it detected that she was experiencing a dangerously fast heart rhythm. Christine received an implantable defibrillator from Medtronic and for the first time in 25 years felt protected.
“I was amazed how much stress and fatigue my long ‘cardiac odyssey' had caused my family and me.”
Christine's implantable defibrillator has had to deliver several lifesaving shock therapies on different occasions. She says the experiences were frightening because without her implantable defibrillator she might have faced sudden cardiac death.
“It's a bit overwhelming to think about, and I can't imagine what would have happened if I didn't have my implantable defibrillator.”
Christine now leads a very active life and finds herself traveling quite a bit. She is able to stay in touch with her doctor through the Medtronic CareLink Network, a remote monitoring service for patients with certain Medtronic implantable heart devices. This allows Christine's clinic to conduct routine checkups or review information on her heart and implantable defibrillator while traveling within the United States.
Christine continues to work part-time, run 18 miles a week, hike, kayak, and cherish each and every day. “My satisfaction with my implantable defibrillator is 100 percent,” she says. “It's like an insurance policy. I hope I don't need it, but if I do, it'll be there to help me.”
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.