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Heart Palpitations/Shortness of breath
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Heart Palpitations/Shortness of breath

Please help. This post is long because I want to be as thorough as possible, as I have been suffering with these symptoms for a year with no diagnosis. I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to read this, and even more grateful if they can provide me with any helpful information.

I am a 22 year old collegiate distance runner and I have been struggling for a year with symptoms that have prevented me from competing or even training for a long period of time. Initially the symptoms began last April when I left my apartment for a run, and within the first few minutes felt like I was suffocating. I stopped running after only a few minutes because I couldn't get over this sensation of suffocation. Upon stopping I placed my hand over my heart and felt it beating not in its normal rhythm, but in what felt like a double beat so to speak (and I've also had my teammates and coach feel the irregular rhythm when it happens just so I knew I wasn't going crazy...they were freaked out by it too). The next day I went to the health center and when they took my vitals upon arrival, they found that my heart rate was 120bpm. They even asked me if I had run over, which I hadn't. They explained to me that I might have something called myocarditis, or an infection of the heart. They set me up for a stress test and asked me not to run until then. When my appointment came around, they had me do the whole stress echo protocol and told me I was completely healthy even though I was feeling the same symptoms. After the stress test I followed up with my team doctor and asked him to check my iron levels. We found that my iron stores were low (ferritin = 20) and I began supplementation. As soon as I began supplementing I felt a difference. I thought I would recover in no time. I was running between 80 and 100 miles per week and supplementing and feeling like I was getting better, and since this was in the summer, I was not racing at all. May, June and July went by and I was still supplementing (65 mg iron 3 times a day), however I would notice that on some of my faster runs...I would get back to my apartment and my heart rate just would not go down. It would stay at 150bpm for as long as an hour after a run, which is abnormal for me. Anyway, our season finally rolled around in september and as we began our faster workouts, I noticed that my heart started seriously double beating again, and I would get short of breath in those fast workouts and races (which usually last about 25 minutes). Now when I say short of breath I mean two things: 1. I felt as though I was suffocating and running out of air, and therefore needed to take a deep breath to fill my lungs (and often times I would be unsuccessful on the first breath and would need to slow down to take a deeper, satisfying one) 2. I was breathless. This you might say would be normal for anyone, even if they were well conditioned, to be experiencing while running. However, every time I ran with my team the entire season (even on slow, easy days) they would all be able to carry on conversations and I couldn't say two words without being out of breath. In October I had another stress echo. I completed the entire thing and doctors told me my oxygen saturation was normal and my heart rate was fine, and again I was told there was nothing wrong with me. I stopped racing after the fall, but still ran with the team during slower workouts and easy runs. I tried inhalers, I had lung function tests done, and while I was told my respiratory muscles were "a little weak" there was nothing wrong with my heart, and no medical professional could detect this double beat that I was experiencing. At the end of february I told my coach that I couldn't run through it. It wasn't getting better. So I stopped running, and haven't run for about five weeks. I also haven't noticed much of an improvement. While the symptoms seem to be much more manageable, I know they will just increase exponentially when I begin to do hard exercise again. Although I haven't been running, I have still been joining our team in our bi weekly weight room sessions, and notice that even exercises like chin ups and bench press and push ups  will cause my heart rate to spike and will make me short of breath. At one point, I was doing dumbell presses over my head and felt my heart pounding so hard I thought I would pass out. The past few days I've started running again, not far, just about three to five miles each day...and although I'm running at a very modest pace, my heart rate has been consistently between 180 and 200. I know max heart rate is around 200, so I don't understand why a regular easy run would cause my heart to beat as fast as it is. I haven't experienced any double beats in a while, but my heartbeat just feels so weak. It feels like it's not strong enough to pump blood and supply vital organs with the oxygen they need during exercise. I don't know, I just know that my heartbeat feels much weaker than it used to. There are a few other things that are important to list as far as my history goes (continued in next post).
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Avatar_m_tn
First, there were only a few other occasions I felt these double beats and palpitations aside from during exercise. One was when I drank alcohol. I noticed that if I had a few drinks my heart would double beat, or beat so fast that it felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, or a combination of the two. Secondly, I got into a car accident on the highway this summer that could have been much worse than it was. When I crashed my heart was beating very quickly and I was experiencing the double beats again. I don't know if it was anxiety that caused my heart to double beat, or if it was simply anxiety that caused my heart rate to increase, which in turn caused me to experience the double beats again. Thirdly, I experimented with marijuana for the first time this summer. I didn't smoke it, I ate it in baked goods, and soon after I found myself experiencing the double beats as well as fainting four times, and vomiting (It may sound silly but I thought I was going to die from a heart attack every time I passed out). I recently found out my family has a history of anxiety disorders (which made me think the whole marijuana episode could have been a panic attack). At least two of my four other immediate family members have anxiety, and one is on medication for generalized anxiety disorder. My grandfather also had it, and one of my uncles has it as well. I told this to my doctor who told me to see a sports psychologist. I spoke to the sports psychologist over the phone, and she told me that she didn't think I needed to be treated by a sports psychologist because my symptoms sounded like they had something to do with panic and that any psychologist who specialized in anxiety could help treat me, so I have made an appointment with a psychologist who I have not seen yet. Another part of my family history worth mentioning is that we have a history of heart problems. My father had open heart surgery for the purpose of putting in a mechanical valve  in his twenties, and now takes blood thinners. He also had a severe stroke two years ago at the age of 47, atrial fibrillation being the cause. His father also has heart problems, although I'm not sure what exactly, and also takes blood thinners. We are also of mediterranean descent, and my mother has beta thalassemia minor (I know it's a genetically inherited defect and I'm not sure if it would affect recovery from something like iron deficiency, just thought it would be worth mentioning). It's been a year, and I'm becoming very hopeless, as I've been sent from doctor to doctor with no diagnosis.  Recently I have begun thinking that if I've gone through all these tests, and no one can find anything wrong with me, then it must be something mental...but I don't know. Again, the symptoms I am currently experiencing are:

Rapid heartbeat/palpitations: The past several times I have been to the health center, and have gotten my vitals checked, my resting heart rate is around 100. There have also been times I will just be standing still and my heart rate will shoot up to 150 for no reason at all. Alcohol seems to affect me negatively, and will give me palpitations and/or cause my heart to double beat.

Shortness of breath: It seemed that during periods of intense training, the shortness of breath was worse. I often felt like I was suffocating even during every day life. There was even one time in particular I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I couldn't breathe while experiencing heart palpitations at the same time. The shortness of breath gets worse during exercise.

Breathlessness: Feel like when I talk, especially during exercise (even light exercise like walking up stairs), I cannot so much as speak my name before I run out of air.

I thank anyone who has taken the time to read this and give advice. I know it's long, but as I said earlier, I want to be as thorough as possible. Any helpful information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.
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Avatar_m_tn
I should also note that I have been supplementing with 65 mg. of iron 3x a day for 9 months, and doctors tell me my levels are normal
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Avatar_f_tn
Thats seems scary im alsotwenty two also I suffer from heart pulpitaions that cause me to b shprt of breath seem to come on after exercise or wen im stressed urs seem a bit more severe I suggust a cardiologist unless uve already done so or try different docs it works for me or if nuthing can help u an u just feel like thered no hope take urself to the er wen the symptoms come on ive just recovered from vertigo an they told me theres.nuthin I can do but leople have told me theyve gone to the hospital wen it gets worse and theve got.more help but if everyone seems to think it all normal an ur fine could b anxiety :)
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Avatar_f_tn
Wow Theodore.  Thanks for writing in .Your  description of your symptoms seem much like my own .Mine also started in my twenties.I was diagnosed with panic/anxiety disorder. I later under went testing because an EKG did not come back right. I worea  heart moniter for 24 hours . The second Ekg came back okay.  I still suffer from rapid heartbeats at times..Aolt of times it will wake me up.  I have been pesceibes a drug called Lorezepam.  However, withdrawaling from this drug can cause my symptoms to become worse and the wthdawal is very hard and should not  be done cold turkey acoording to many researchers.. I hace chosen to stay on the ativan and really moniter my dose in the hopes of one day trying to come off of it completely.  It does help my symptoms quite alot though.  I have also read that alcohol can speed up your heart.  I believe it has done that to me before but not usually after until I have gone to bed after a few drinks. I have heard that you can become allergic to alcohol and that it will cause heart palpitations. Also, you speak about iron spplements. I have also heard that potasium shortage can cause a rapid heartbeat. Your writnig was vey informing. My fiance has a prolapsed valve in his heart .  It is a conditon where the valve will just prolapse much like a baby bottle nipple.  This too can cause a very rapid heartbeat.  I knew  two other people with this when I was younger and they both were prescibed valium. A condition of prolapsed valve can happen anytime, but the two women I knew with it it happened more frequently at at night. It is just a feeling of a very rapid hearbeat. and it is quite scary.  we are not yet sure what I have but know that my heart beats vey rapidly and I also feel as though it is hard to breathe..For now I am just planning on staying on regimented dose of lorazepam so i can function. Good luck to you. Wharever it is it is quite scary when it happens..
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Avatar_f_tn
Just for your own reassurance and considering your family history, have you considered asking another doctor for a second opinion?  This is not to say you need to be re-tested but having another doctor look at and explain your test results may help.  If nothing else, it might reassure you to have someone else give their professional opinion on your physical state (even if - hopefully - everything is really 100% within normal limits).

What you are describing sounds to me like a series of panic attacks or panic attack like symptoms, too.  In my personal experience, they do not have to be a defined "attack" with a beginning or end.  Sometimes I'd go a couple of weeks when it was really bad, having chest pains and the same exact shortness of breath you described, and I'd end up in the hospital or urgent care getting checked.  I thought it was my heart (for which ECG was normal) asthma flaring up, but nothing seemed to help (inhalers, neb treatments, nothing!) until I tried a temporary anti-anxiety treatment -- for me it was a low dose of Xanax for a few days.  That cleared it up almost right away.  That was a big clue to me that my shortness of breath was not asthma, but probably anxiety and just knowing that helped take away some of the fear I had of a serious asthma attack looming and ready to carry me off to the hospital... or worse!

Another thing is, thinking about it or worrying about it can really make it worse; it can compound your symptoms or cause them to reoccur. This isn't to say "stop thinking about it" because I'm sure many of us on this forum have heard this argument from someone or somewhere... but no matter how hard we try, we *can't* stop what's going on in our own bodies and therefore playing on our thoughts and emotions (and vice-versa).  That's when it's time to get help and I think that you've already taken a good first step by seeking out a psychologist.

I'm glad you found this forum. Reading other people's experiences - even just to know that other people deal with the same things - and hearing about their successes and advice is really helpful to me and I hope it will be to you, too.
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Avatar_m_tn
Thank you all for sharing the specifics of your--apparently our--condition: the shortness of breath with concurring rapid heartbeat, the breathlessness, the fact that anything above light exercise is a powerful trigger for the worst symptoms (not sure if it's true for all of you, but it sure is for Theodore22089 and me), and the uselessness of asthma medications.

I was prescribed "Symbicort" inhalers, "Singulair" pills, and an albuterol inhaler -simultaneously-. But when -five- (5) puffs on the albuterol "emergency" inhaler does nothing to help during a gym-class attack, it's pretty clearly not asthma.

My new cardiologist agrees, even though my echo stress test also came back normal. I'm going in for a CT scan next, and if that comes up truly clean, I'll talk to a psychiatrist specializing in anxiety and panic attacks. These symptoms suck and are pretty scary, but thanks to you guys, I have a new lead to follow and that gives me hope. : ]
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