Thursday, January 14, 2016
I can't remember how much of this I've already told, so apologies for any repetition.
When I had ankle surgery on October 30th, my oxygen went way too low, and I had to be sent home with oxygen for several days. The nurse in recovery said it might be either a sign of cardiac troubles or sleep apnea and I should talk to my doctor, which I did. Because my oxygen levels improved as soon as the anesthesia wore of and I reduced my dose of narcotic painkillers, my doctor was not too worried and said I could wait until I was walking again.
I saw her on December 14th, and she felt confident I was not having cardiac issues, and referred me to a sleep specialist even though it seems unlikely to her that I have sleep apnea--for example, I rarely snore--but a quiz she gave me did show that I have a lot of fatigue so worth checking out whether I have some kind of sleep issue. (That appointment with the sleep specialist is tomorrow morning.)
I then asked her, since I'm almost 45 and my dad had his first heart attack at 54, whether there were any baseline cardiac tests I should have done now. She said stress tests are not good baseline tests, don't do a good job of predicting future heart health, so she recommended two imaging tests. One is an ultrasound of the carotid arteries (the big ones on the sides of the neck) to check their thickness and look for plaque. The other is a heart scan which shows plaque deposits in the heart and/or the coronary arteries. I had both tests last week, and I got the results today.
I have plaque in one area of a carotid and in one of the four coronary arteries. The carotid test tells you how yours compares to the average for different age ranges. Mine was the thickness you would expect in someone age 45-54 (which means older than me by somewhere between three months and nine years). The scarier number was that I'm in the 90th percentile for women in their 40s (on a scale where you want to be as close to the 1st percentile as possible, not the 100th). My doctor said this is not anything that will give me a heart attack in the next five years (thank goodness), but we need to act now to prevent a heart attack at 60. That was a wake-up call.
I have been keeping my cholesterol under control (but just barely in the normal range) for many years with diet and exercise, but now it's time to put me on medication. My mom reminded me today that Dad went on cholesterol lowering medication about a year before his first heart attack--and the cardiologist later said if he had been on it years earlier, it might have prevented the heart attack. So I am thankful I asked for the tests and got this information now, rather than a decade from now.
I will also need to do better with both diet and exercise. The exercise is limited right now as I continue my ankle recovery--physical therapy and the exercises for me to do at home for PT are about all I'm able to do right now, but hopefully soon my options will expand. Dietary changes start immediately. She recommended a Mediterranean diet so I will be reading up on that tonight.