I finally had the stress test I’ve been anticipating the last several weeks. Unfortunately, everything didn’t go as planned. I thought I would just breeze through it, but it was by far one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
The procedure started out benign enough. I laid down on a bed, a blood pressure cup was attached to my arm, and technicians started applying numerous (at least 15, maybe more) electrodes all over my chest. A base ultrasound was obtained, and then I got on the treadmill. That’s when I knew I was going to have a problem.
I’m not a jogger/runner. I’m a cyclist, so a treadmill is not something I’m very comfortable with. Plus add in an extra 10 pounds of cables and transmitters, and I was already worn out, and they hadn’t even started the treadmill.
The treadmill starts out slow enough, and despite only increasing speed and elevation every 3 minutes, it started getting pretty hard pretty quick. After about 6 minutes, I’m starting to feel it, and I’m breathing pretty hard. I look at the blood pressure monitor, and it’s reading 173/84. Pretty high I’m thinking, but no one seems concerned. At 9 minutes I’m really starting to labor, and my blood pressure is at 223/94. Still nothing from the techs, and I’m breathing even harder. At about 11 minutes, I called it quits. Maybe I could have gone longer (there’s no way to know now), but I thought I saw 173 beats per minute (bpm) on the heart rate monitor, and I didn’t think it was wise to go on. My max heart rate is at most 160 bpm.
As it turns out, I should have gone longer. I had only gotten my heart rate up to 151 bpm, and by the time I got back on the table for the ultrasound, it had already recovered to 136 bpm. The nurse practitioner said there may have been something there, but it couldn’t be evaluated properly because my heart rate had recovered so quickly. (One of the perils of being in shape.) She called it a ‘confounder’.
I’m guessing the nurse practitioner wasn’t sure what to make of everything, so we go and talk to the cardiologist about the results. His first reaction is to express concern for the high blood pressure readings, and thinking I’m hypertensive. That shouldn’t be, as my blood pressure readings have always been in the 115-130/60-80 range, which confounds them even more, since I was 175/80 when they were hooking up all the electrodes to me, and I was laying prone on a bed.
The cardiologist goes on to suggest we try to quantify the amount of calcification, something that wasn’t done with the initial CT scan, with a heart CT scan, or have an angiogram. I opted for the heart CT scan, because there’s less risk, and it’s less invasive. That decision is still up in the air though, as most of my other advisors are telling me I should opt for the angiogram.
In the mean time, it was [strongly] suggested I start a daily regimen of one baby aspirin and 10 mg of Simvastatin to attempt to treat the calcification (plaque) medically (without a stent), and prevent vulnerable plaque rupture. That was something I didn’t want to hear. I’ve always prided myself in being able to resist the need to take any medications. I looked on it as a badge of honor, and hearing that was like I was defeated.
But that’s only half of it. Yesterday I decided to go for an easy ride. A ride where I wouldn’t get my heart rate to the point I had been experiencing pain/discomfort. The ride started out fine, but on the return trip, I started feeling great discomfort in my chest. Discomfort very unlike anything I’d experienced before, and my max heart rate was well below the point I’d been experiencing prior discomfort.
And the discomfort persisted all the way home, and still persists even now. Even stranger, the pain I noticed before on the left side of my chest, when the tech was pressing their, is gone, and the discomfort I’m experiencing now is confined to my right side upper chest area. There is a slight localized increase in pain when I press in that area, but the persistant pain extends over a larger area. Something I was not experiencing prior to the stress test.
So now I don’t know what to do or think, as I wait to be contacted about the heart CT (or angio, if I change my mind). Should I ride my bike or not? I have started the baby aspirin and statin regimen prescribed, but I’m feeling very uneasy about it. I’m still thinking [hoping] all this is nothing more than costochondritis, but…………
BIG SIGH! Regardless, I’m not a happy camper. This getting old stuff is for the birds.