Tachycardia Saps Her Breath and Energy

Tessie Dewitt, 30, is an insurance agent living in Gresham, Ore., near Portland. At 26 she had her first attack of supraventricular tachycardia, an abnormal, fast rhythm that starts in the upper chambers of the heart. She also has type 1 diabetes, which she manages by giving herself shots of insulin. She has two children, a 15-year-old stepdaughter and a 10-year-old daughter

"Sometimes the assistants at hospitals are shocked when they see me because I'm not what they expected."
About four years ago I woke up in the middle of the night to a pounding in my chest. I felt like I had been kicked: I couldnt breathe or talk. My husband panicked; he didnt know what to do. I assumed that it had something to do with my diabetes, and I thought something was going wrong with the medication or my diet, or that maybe it had something to do with an extra-strength sleeping pill I had taken. But none of that was it.

I was certain I'd had a heart attack. It was the most frightening thing that ever happened to me. The EMTs tell you to try to breathe through it, but it is very difficult to stay calm—especially when you are 26 and you think you're pretty healthy! The doctor said this is the closest thing to having a heart attack without actually having one.

I went through a bunch of electrocardiograms (EKGs) and echocardiograms, and I had to carry a portable EKG with me everywhere. All these patches were hooked to my chest with little wires, and the machine recorded my heartbeat all day. I was glad to let that thing go back to the clinic! It probably took at least three to five weeks before I got a complete diagnosis: supraventricular tachycardia. The electrical part of my heart malfunctions and causes something like a short circuit that makes my heart beat too fast. My normal everyday beat is around 75 to 120 per minute. I'm on metoprolol and ramipril, but without heart medication, my heart beats up to 180 beats per minute. Sometimes it will reach that rate even while I'm taking the meds.

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As told to: Kathryn Higgins
Last Updated: August 05, 2008

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