Learning to Live and Hike with Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

This is unequivocally the last topic I want to be writing an article about, but here I am. Acceptance is a real MOTHER!

Up, at the crack of dawn early on my second Saturday morning, to share a topic that’s one of my least favorite to talk about, let alone acknowledge and accept. I especially have a hard time sharing it with others.

My reason for sharing is because I don’t have the energy to explain some of my actions in recent months, and I feel I owe it to my friends, family, followers, and readers so they understand my actions better. I have had to back out of some things that I previously committed to. I have had to clear my plate of all items that are not 100% needed and necessary. I’ve had to walk away from communities, commitments, and even people to release some things from my life that we’re no longer adding to it the way I needed them to. The other part is me stepping out of denial that this is even a “thing” for me and stepping into the light that sharing this IS a real thing, and I hope a piece of my journey might help someone else.

A little back story:

In April of 2018, I started experiencing reoccurring signs of a heart rhythm upset, but I had no clue what I was dealing with, so I ignored these signs and continued my everyday life. Until eventually, it caught up with me. But that’s usually what happens when we ignore things. They always circle back around.

In May 2018, after a regular day at work, I visited an urgent treatment center when my workday ended for symptoms of chest heaviness, a racing heart, nausea, and fatigue; I was suddenly rushed to the emergency room by ambulance. My heart rate was stuck between 160BPM and 170BPM, and I was not running a marathon, hiking a trail, or walking fast. Instead, it was sitting still at work. This lasted for over an hour before I went to the urgent treatment.

The memories of that experience are vivid to me because it was the first time I had rode in an ambulance before. In transit to the ER, I remember the nurse giving me an IV and saying that I would feel weird, but he would have to provide me with some adenosine medicine in my IV to restart my heart.

Restart my heart?

WTF…

I remember things getting blurry, grey, and a hot flash came over my whole body. Finally, I faded out and back into consciousness only to hear him say, “It didn’t work I need to give you some more.” After another dose of adenosine, slowly, my heart rate finally started to come down. When I arrived at the ER, it was in the 130 BPM range.

The average BPM for healthy adults is 60-100BPM, and the normal resting for me is 80BPM. But, of course, if we’re exercising, running, walking, hiking, jogging, etc., it is higher, but average BPM starts to come down as you slow down activities or stop them.

As I arrived at the ER, they hook me up to more machines to monitor me, and they give me some medication to bring my heart rate down some more. Keep in mind, I’m a healthy person for the most part, so this was a significant shock to me to end up in the ER for heart-related issues. It would be helpful if I had my medical history from my maternal and paternal biological parents and families, but being adopted we don’t all get that luxury!

Eventually, the doctor comes in to explain that I have had an SVT episode. So, of course, my initial reaction is, “What is SVT?”

Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) is an abnormally fast or erratic heartbeat that affects the heart’s upper chambers. SVT occurs when the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work correctly. SVT occurs when faulty electrical connections in the heart set off a series of early beats in the atria. When this happens, the heart rate becomes so fast so quickly; the heart doesn’t have enough time to fill with blood before the chambers contract. As a result, you may feel light-headed or dizzy because your brain isn’t getting enough blood and oxygen. A normal heart rhythm is 60-100BPM. During an episode of SVT, your heart beats about 150 to 220 times per minute, but it can occasionally beat faster. Sometimes it can last a minute or two, and sometimes it can last hours, even days. Some people have no symptoms, and others have many. I have all the symptoms when an episode hits me, and they last between a few minutes and 6-8 hours. Sometimes I have to seek medical attention, and sometimes I have handled it on my own.

Signs and symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia may include:

  • Very fast (rapid) heartbeat
  • A fluttering or pounding in your chest (palpitations)
  • A pounding sensation in the neck
  • Weakness or feeling very tired (fatigue)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

I had a few choices that the doctor presented me with while in the ER in 2018.

  1. Do nothing and risk the possibility of more episodes, which could cause damage to my heart if left untreated.
  2. Take beta-blockers 2x a day for the rest of my life.
  3. Take beta-blockers as needed.
  4. Have a surgical procedure called a catheter ablation to correct the faulty wiring in my heart.

I thought long and hard about this, and I decided to take beta-blockers as needed if an episode arose. However, I’m not a pill person; actually, I’m not too fond of pills, so taking two medications a day for the rest of my life was something I wasn’t ready to commit to.

I was discharged with beta-blockers in hand.

Life went on its merry way – until it didn’t.

In June 2018, the middle of summer, I decided to hike with two other women to one of my favorite newfound gorges not far from my house. They knew this gorge well, and we had plans to show me around to become more familiar with this gorgeous area of Kentucky.

We met at the trailhead at 3:30P and off we went. This particular gorge, we had to hike approx a mile in a creek that took us to the top of a huge waterfall. Once we hit the waterfall, we adventured down a steep scramble to the bottom. Once we got to the bottom, we hung out a bit, and then we ventured up another steep scramble to see a bat cave on the other side of the mountain.

By the time I made it to the top, my heart rate was beating 210BPM. Then, I sat down and took a break for close to an hour, and my heart rate was still 210BPM.

I realized I forgot the medicine.

I was screwed.

The following six hours of my life is a time I will never forget. It took us over five hours to get out of the gorge it took us one hour to get into because I could barely breathe, walk, or talk with my heart beating so fast. I took five steps, sat down, almost passed out dozens of times. Then, finally, I would sit down again because I couldn’t go any further, and then I would get up enough energy to take a few more steps. Sweat dripping, and my chest was hurting. I was exhausted. 

H O U R S seemed like days.

I honestly thought I was going to die in that damn gorge. But the ladies I was with were so kind, patient, and understanding, and they were not leaving me behind. Of course, they had no clue what they were signing up for that day, but I will always be thankful for their presence. 

We finally made it out, my heart rate was still 210BPM, and I drove myself home. I should have gone to the ER, but I had to work the next day, and it was already dark by the time I made it home. I was so weak I couldn’t get upstairs to get the meds, so my son brought them to me. I was so tired; I couldn’t even tell him what had just happened. So I just sat there in the living room in the dark – hot, sweaty, and exhausted.

I took a beta-blocker, waited a few minutes, and crawled upstairs, barely making it into my bedroom. Somehow I got enough strength to get into the shower, almost passing out. I just wanted to rinse my body off so I could lay down and go to sleep. I knew once the pill started to work, my heart rate would come down eventually.

By the time I made it to my bed, I didn’t even have enough strength to put clothes on. I wrapped my towel around me, wet hair and all, and laid down. I couldn’t believe what I had just gone through. Little by little, the beta-blocker did its job, my heart rate finally lowered, and I eventually dozed off to sleep.

The next day I felt like I had run a 10K marathon. It took me days to recover and feel semi-back to normal. At this point, I decided I wanted to get the surgical procedure to fix this problem because I never wanted to go through this again.

E V E R

I reached out to my Electrotheseaologist and made an appointment to set up the surgery. I expressed how active I am, my recent upset in the gorge, how scary it was and how I never want to go through that again. He said many avid hikers like me choose to get the surgical procedure for the same reasons. So in July 2018, I was scheduled for a catheter ablation, which I was hopeful would fix this problem.

The surgery was a success, and I was discharged the same day and spent some time recovering. After that, the SVT episodes dissipated into nothingness, and I felt like I had my life back.

June & July 2020, things seem to shift a bit. I started showing signs of SVT again. I have also had symptoms resulting in getting up out of chairs, getting out of my car, and bending over.

Sometimes I would be awakened in the night with my heart racing 130-140BPM. Sometimes I would be sitting at work or home doing nothing activity-wise, and it would go up and come back down on its own after some time. I ended up going back to the Cardiologist in August 2020. I was sent home with a new monitor, but after a week of wearing it, I decided I didn’t want to be bothered with anything heart-related. Maybe if I just pretended like it didn’t exist, it would go away?

I just wanted it to go away.

Life went on, and some symptoms would come and go over the next year. I took note, but basically, I ignored them as they were minor compared to the episode in the gorge. I have been hiking on trails that are various levels of difficulty in that time.  I have seemed to do okay since the catheter ablation. I have been hiking a lot in that time, and I have never stopped.

July 2021, I had a significant episode come on me while I was at work, sitting still doing nothing active. I noticed my resting heart rate was 120-130BPM which a standard resting heart rate for me is 80BPM. This episode lasted off and on for 10-12 hours. I ended up taking a beta-blocker I had on hand to bring it down because I was hiking the next day, and I wanted to enjoy my hike and forget I was having this issue.

It’s always in the back of my mind, but again I just wanted it to go away.

Around this time, I decided that I need to start putting my health in my own hands, which goes for physical, emotional, and mental. If I got honest with myself, my plate was overflowing in all areas of my life. Some of the triggers for SVT are doing nothing. However, some are anxiety and stress, as well as many other things. Doing my part, I started to slowly clear my plate of all items that aren’t 100% necessary in my life for my health. All extra commitments and responsibilities had to go. One by one, over the last few months, I have been clearing my plate. I can no longer participate in anything that is emotionally or mentally upsetting or draining. I’ve had to make some significant changes, and some of them have been heartbreaking, but I know I have to do what I have to do for my overall health and, in return, happiness. I’ve been setting major boundaries for myself. This has been life or death for me, because at 47 years young, heart problems are the last thing I want to be dealing with. But here I am, dealing with heart problems. If I haven’t mentioned this to you before, sorry. I don’t like talking about health issues, and keeping it private has aided me in staying in denial.

Today is a new day.

It’s only apparent that I have to make some changes for myself.

Things have begun to shift in my personal and professional life, and I had to evaluate the things that mean the most to me and let go of things that aren’t a priority in my life or they might have been a priority, but not good for my emotional and mental wellbeing. So there has been a lot of getting alone with myself and soul searching, thinking about the life I want to live and the future I want to have for myself.

August 20, 2021 – I flew to Salt Lake City to spend my post-birthday weekend with my best friend. We decided on Saturday, August 20, we would hike a canyon to Fifth Water Hot Springs. We had never been too hot springs before. This was a gorgeous hike, approx—five miles in and out. The incline was pretty significant the whole way in, but making our way to the hot springs was so worth it.

We decided to spend about an hour basking in the hot springs before we make the trip to the bottom of the trail. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, especially with my best friend. The ambiance was out of this world. We got out of the hot springs to gather our things, and I noticed I felt light-headed, dizzy, and totally off balance.

This is so not like me.

I sat down to get myself together, but I still felt sick. I decided to look at my heart rate as I felt it beating out of my chest. It was between 150-160BPM. I waited for it to come down, and it didn’t come down. We were sitting still in the hot springs, and even after resting out of the water for 30-45 minutes, it was still stuck between 150-160BPM.

Here we go again.

We waited longer, but it showed no lowering signs, so I decided to get up and keep it moving. At least we were going down an incline (instead of an elevated slope) going out, which would be easier for me. So we made it out, taking many breaks, and 1.5-2 hours later, my heart rate slowly started to come down on its own after about 3 hours at 150-160BPM. This episode was similar to the episode where I was stuck in the gorge, and if I was coming out up any incline like I was at the gorge in 2018, I’m pretty sure it would have been even harder on me. Don’t get it twisted. I love a challenging hike, steep scrambles, and I consider the difficult hikes something I enjoy to the fullest!

By the time we made it back to my friend’s house, I was exhausted because when my heart beats that fast non-stop, it does a number on me. I was feeling the impacts of this episode for the next 4-5 days, maybe even longer.  I realized I hiked a strenuous hike, around 5 miles, my heart rate was stuck for several hours, and I traveled by airplane. When I returned home, I was dead to the world.

I made it to work last week, but I was only showing up in a half-ass way most days. I could barely complete my routine tasks, and after work, I was home in bed. I had no energy, and I did not feel well. Finally, by Thursday and Friday, I started to feel semi back to normal. Tuesday, I made it into the heart and valve clinic, and after discussing this episode with my Cardiologist, it’s evident that the SVT is returning. I was told when I had the ablation that there is a possibility that the SVT could come back for a variety of reasons. I was also told other issues could come about after the ablation. I knew it was a possibility, but I didn’t want to believe it would happen to me.

So now what?

I sat in the Cardiologist’s office and failed miserably at holding back tears. Snot slanging, and my emotions overwhelmed me. I expressed my feelings of forcing myself to step out of denial that this is even a thing for me, and my hope of the problem being solved was shattered. I mentioned hiking, especially alone, is the number one thing I love doing in my life, and I didn’t want to be scared to hike alone or give such a precious thing up. So I told him I refused to give it up.

If I get one thing from both my birth parents, it’s stubbornness. I’m not a quitter, and I’m not going to let this heart issue stop me from doing the main thing I love to do. But, I won’t lie, this has been a difficult transition to step into.

The Cardiologist convinced me I needed to wear another monitor to catch an episode in action hopefully. He also ordered several tests to make sure its nothing else going on.

The thing with SVT is that everyone has different experiences with it, and it usually isn’t life-threatening. However, it depends on an individual’s lifestyle and the frequency and duration of the episodes on how it impacts each of us. Especially when I have the episodes hiking, it affects me significantly; it’s impacting my quality of life.

I have a few choices to make. I can let this paralyze me into stopping doing the things I love, or I can push through it and try to step out of denial that it’s even a thing so I can step into a space of truth that if I want to keep doing the things I love, I need to make some changes.

If anyone knows me, I will never stop hiking and chasing waterfalls as long as my body will allow me to go and run wild in nature! This is one of the things I live for. So I have chosen to push through and continue to hike. However, I am working on preparing myself; if things go wrong, what will I do?

I have invested in a new Apple iwatch six series that has some benefits for someone in my situation. They can now check your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and they can monitor an ECG.  I will need to invest in a GPS (they are expensive!) device that will work when I lose a cell signal and almost always lose a cell signal hiking. I will have to let someone know where I’m going at all times and carry the medication with me if I should be triggered into an episode. I will have to talk to my close friends and family about what to do when I have an episode, and I will continue to research natural ways I can help myself when episodes should arise.

I’ve learned about the Modified Valsalva Maneuver, which helps reset someone’s heart when having an SVT episode. It seems pretty dramatic watching it; however, it looks like it does the job effectively!

One of the most important things I can do for myself is to walkway from the things that have been causing my plate to overflow along with anything that causes consistent stress or anxiety. I can control this, and I have been working on backing out of things and clearing my plate for a few months. I can honestly say it’s been exceptionally freeing to get to this space, but denial can keep us stuck and, in return, sick.

I am determined to kick SVT’s ASS around the world and back again. It will not paralyze me, and it will not control my life. It might slow me down sometimes; however, listening to my body is so much easier with less shit on my plate to tend to.

I’ve spent the last few weeks stepping into a space of acceptance that even with another catheter ablation, this might be something I deal with moving forward. This is important to me and could save my life at some point. However, acceptance hasn’t come without many tears because I don’t want to deal with this at the end of the day.

I’m reminding myself this is similar to when Covid hit us all, and we suddenly had to make some choices on what was the most important to us regarding our time and presence. So we cut back on many things to stay safe and keep others safe in return.

For me, this is my health and my life, so making these choices to step into a lighter role with less stress and anxiety will allow me to step into a space with more love, more laughter, and more quality time with those I love. Because of that, I am thankful.

One last thing I would love to share is that when someone is going through heart issues or any issues, it’s never okay to place a burden on that person as if they have done something or things to create this situation. We all live with stress and some levels of anxiety in life; however, it’s up to each of us to prune our lives to get to a place of peace and joy. Sometimes people are stuck; however, it’s not helpful to say things like “You need to calm down, and not be so stressed all the time” or “You are bringing this on yourself, don’t you think you need to let go of some things and your health might get better?”

It’s hurtful and can keep someone isolated from sharing important health information with those close to. I have gotten this stance several times over the last few years, so I just stopped communicating about this topic. Even when I had a legitimate heart condition, followed by a surgical procedure, it was nothing I could control, people have said these things to me.

Stress, anxiety and such can trigger our hearts to react a certain way, but it’s up to each of us to eliminate as much stress and anxiety as possible. Not those we love placing a burden on us that we are causing these problems; therefore, it’s our fault for the health condition. This is not helpful.

I’m not sharing all this to look for sympathy or prayers. I don’t need pity at all; however, if you are someone close to me and I have backed out of an event, or a relationship, commitment, tasks,  etc., this is likely the cause. Changes have had to happen, and in return, it’s opened my life up to a new path of freedom, even learning to live, love, and hike with SVT. It’s been emotional for me, but I have arrived at the place of acceptance. If you are a close friend of mine, I don’t need anything from you aside from a listening heart and understanding because if we are ever together and this happens, I would love for you to be prepared to handle the situation.

Stay tuned for a fabulous article on how I celebrated my 47th Birthday along side my 9 year sobriety birthday! I was surrounded by those who mean the most to me, my kids!

Are you an active hiker with SVT? I would love to hear others experiences.

Thanks for reading.

Love, Love