When was the last time you had a physical? Have you had blood work to determine your cholesterol levels lately? What about your heart?
These are all questions I started asking myself a few months ago. It’s been years since I had a legit, actual physical. Yes, I’ve had babies and have been under the care of an OB/GYN, a rheumatologist, and several sports medicine specialists. But a full body, head-to-toe checkup? Years.
I have a whole bunch of fun stuff that runs in my family — everything from Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis to heart disease and cancer. Heart disease is one of the reasons I run if you want to know the truth. I want to do everything I can to keep that far, far away. But I know as hard as I try to maintain an athletic heart, genetics plays a huge role in how my heart works and functions. I’ve had heart palpitations every now and again, and sometimes my heart beats really hard for no apparent reason. It’s never overly fast — just super hard. I suppose that’s considered a palpitation. I’m not well-versed in “heart facts” so I won’t even try to self-diagnose.
After I read the Haywire Heart, it really got me thinking. I’m an endurance athlete, I’ve experienced heart palpitations over the last several years (probably the last 15 or so if I’m being truthful), and heart disease runs in my family. These three factors were enough to give me pause and I made an appointment with my primary care physician for a routine check-up — and a thorough check of my heart.
An Athletic Heart: My Experience Getting an Echocardiogram
When I arrived at my doctor’s office a few months later, I told her I needed a thorough examination. She knows my family and understood my concerns about my heart. She listened to it and noted a slight murmur (which I’ve always had so this was not news to me). Afterward, the nurse gave me an EKG which came back clear. My heart rate was low — 42 bpm — which is not uncommon for runners. In fact, any time I see a healthcare professional I’m asked, “are you a runner?” My blood pressure was also low. Despite my athletic heart, since she had heard a murmur and knows my family history, I was sent for an echocardiogram.
I’m not gonna lie — I was a little excited about the echo. I wasn’t at all concerned with potential results. This was more or less a baseline so we know what my heart looks like and sounds like — in case anything should change in the future. I was looking forward to seeing an ultrasound of my heart. I love learning about the human body and honestly, after reading so much about the heart (especially after my book review), I wanted to see what my own looked and sounded like.
I arrived at the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, signed in, and was given a bracelet. (Okay, the bracelet part freaked me out a bit. Whenever I’ve gotten a bracelet, I’ve been admitted. What was this all about?!) A few minutes later I was called back by my sonographer. He got me all set up, hooked up to the machine, and started measuring and listening to my heart.
All said and done, the process took about 45 minutes. It was really interesting. He took all sorts of measurements. We listened to my heart beat and he took pictures from a few different locations. It was a fascinating experience. My only regret about this appointment was not asking for a picture. Is that a thing? Like when you have an ultrasound when you’re pregnant? It’s probably frowned upon to ask for such a thing. But it would have been cool to have. 😉
An Athletic Heart
While he was imaging my heart, he asked me if my heart rate was always so low. I swear I just had this conversation a few days ago with the nurse who did my EKG. I told him yes, and then I asked him what the average person’s heart rate is. He said most people are somewhere around 70 bpm. I tried grilling him about all endurance athletes, not just runners, but he reminded me that most of the patients he sees are not endurance athletes so his scope of knowledge was very limited in that aspect. This is the plus side of having an athletic heart — you’re rarely seen at the Vascular Institute!
Afterward, I was released and told my doctor would be in touch with me. A day later I received a call from her office — all clear. I was given a clean bill of health.
Getting an echocardiogram was fascinating and relieving. I wasn’t worried about my heart but given my family history, I’m really glad I got checked out. Now that my doctor has a baseline and knows where my numbers are and what my heart looks like, she’ll be able to pinpoint if anything is “off” and hopefully nip any issues right in the bud. It was definitely an interesting experience. And now I feel even more confident in my body’s ability to do hard things. My heart is strong and I’m doing all the right things to be healthy.
Parting Advice: Get a Check-Up
Where does this leave us? Well, first, I’m not a doctor. Only your doctor is your doctor. Second, I don’t recommend running to your doctor crying foul on your heart unless you have an actual issue. Having said that, I do recommend going to your doctor for regular check-ups. It’s important to eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep — but these are things we should all be doing anyway. Make an appointment to be seen if you haven’t done so in a while. You’ll be happy you did.
Don’t forget to link up with Susie, Debbie, Lora, and myself for the Running Coaches’ Corner this and every week. I speak for all of us when I say we love reading your posts. We hope you’re finding new bloggers to follow and great health and running-related posts to read!
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Have you had an echocardiogram?
When was the last time you saw your primary care physician?
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