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The Cold Front That Almost Killed Me ; Barometric Pressure and Cardiovascular Failure

RAJABLOGG.com - Today is Friday and I am alive and writing about how I thought I was going to die just forty eight hours ago and at that time I had no clue as to why I felt as though my aorta was about to aneuryze.

But now I know what happened, thanks to several research papers published to the internet and input from others who are challenged with similar conditions.

The Cold Front That Almost Killed Me ; Barometric Pressure and Cardiovascular Failure
Watch Out For Low Pressure Systems

I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience with others.  Hopefully someone suffering from these symptoms may find this information useful and the following links educational, for feeling like death is imminent can be an unsettling experience.

This Wednesday, November 13th, I retired to the bedroom early in the evening, feeling especially tired and lay out my sleeping pad by the tall, opened bedroom window.  I sleep on the floor because  of my back and feel so much better for doing so, but sleeping on the floor is another story.

The bedroom window opens out to the large screened lanai over the pool.  The lanai is surrounded by Judy's herb and flower gardens which are in turn enclosed by a thick pine and saw palmetto flatwoods forest area.

The Cold Front That Almost Killed Me ; Barometric Pressure and Cardiovascular Failure

When the moon is full the shimmering light dances across the broadleaf palmetto, reflecting nature's silhouettes on the swimming pool's surface.  Cool breezes laden with oxygen from the woods flow into the window and cover me while I sleep, filling my lungs with fresh, invigorating air.

Wednesday's weather forecast called for a low pressure system to move in from the north, rapidly covering the area with the year's first heavy cold air. 

Sometime, around three a.m. I woke, my St. Jude aortic pounding loudly, my pulse racing.  The front was coming through,  bringing with it forty mile an hour winds.  The tall pines swayed more than I'd ever before seen them sway.

My chest tightened as though someone was reaching around me squeezing me tightly.  But the cooler air felt good across my face and I rolled to my side to see if the mechanical valve would quieten.   The valve beat louder and faster and the pain did not subside.

Alarmed, I rolled up to my hands and knees, stood and walked into the bathroom to take a Losartan tablet as well as my beloved beta-blocker, Metoprolol.  Usually an extra dose will calm things down when unexpected heart pain hits.

Sometimes my medication induced vivid and colorful dreams can really jump the blood pressure and pulse, but I could not remember any such dream having taken place that night and my chest was much tighter than normal.  Was this an anxiety attack?  I'd not experienced this level of discomfort since my dissection but the sensation was much different than the aorta tear.

I sat down on the floor and began to do gentle stretching exercises, hoping to release the muscle tension.  No luck.  Turned on the Ipad's relaxing music station, and again no success.  Working with my breathing usually helps but not that night.  So I lay back down, covered up and waited for whatever challenge my body had in store for me.

Sleep eluded me for the next several hours and when daylight finally broke I was glad.  The pain persisted.  My blood pressure soared, especially the systolic.   I just knew the big aorta tear was around the corner.  Times like these are difficult because I can go to the ER like most everyone including the doctor usually suggests but doing so always results in a contrast dye CT scan.  I have been in renal failure already and absolutely hate the contrast dye.

Avoiding the ER is always my first thought because of my kidneys and because the doctors usually can not figure out what is happening anyway.  They give me some pills and send me on my way until the next incident where they run a CT scan, scratch their heads, give me some pills and send me on my way once more.

By early after noon the horrible pain was gone and I felt as good as ever.  The weather front had moved through and sunny, cool blue filled the afternoon skies.

Then it struck me.  I bet it was the weather.  Blame the weather.  It just made sense.  My mom and I talk about our mechanical valves always rattling louder during storms or when a system comes through.  I was almost sure my intense pain was do to the weather.  So I started researching the internet's library of barometric related health conditions.

Turns out I found the culprit, at least so I am convinced.

Looking to the NOAA weather site for barometric pressure tracking in Florida, I found that as the cold front came through the local barometric pressure quickly dropped by almost an inch of mercury over a very short time span.

As a scuba diver (pre-dissection) I was well aware of what differences in ambient pressure can do to the body.  Interestingly, an inch mercury drop in barometric pressure could be compared to climbing several thousand feet or more in altitude in a matter of minutes.

 As air pressure decreases, available oxygen also decreases.  Because my heart's output function is already extremely low due to my dissection, valve damage and surgery stress, it has a hard time supplying my body with the oxygen I need.  When, all of a sudden my body is screaming for more oxygen because the existing air O2 content has just dramatically decreased, my heart freaks out.  And wow, did it ever as the cold front was racing through.

Interestingly, my pulse really was not affected after I had taken the big blue pill at 3 a.m.  Metoprolol controls my pulse like a hen-pecked husband who is stifled by his over bearing wife.  But because my heart could not pump faster, it beat 'harder'.  Peripheral arterial vessels constricted and my systolic pressure shot through the roof.  It was like jamming on the brake and throwing down the accelerator all at the same time, a mega Valsalva maneuver.  Worst of all I had no idea of what was happening.

But now I do. And I want to share it with you, just in case you are ever faced with the same symptoms.

There is so much information on the web also.  For instance, googling terms like 'barometric hear attack', 'weather related health issues', and 'barometric migraine', I came across many interesting sites, including;
  • A great blog post by Rashid discussing heart attacks and barometric pressure,
  • Reuters Health post on barometric pressure and heart issues,
  • Nature's International Journal of Science post on temperature, pressure and heart issues,
  • Dr. Oz's comments on the same in the Huffington Post,
  • A list of cities in the U.S. with the smallest barometric pressure changes,
  •  and another post on barometric health issues by the Mayo Clinic.
As the cold front passed, the barometric pressure rose with the influx of clear, cold air and my heart and chest, felt so much better.  My blood pressure settled to normal.

Frighteningly though, there are plenty of studies and data to show that cardiac fatalities do occur on a frequent basis associated with weather systems arriving and departing.

I truly believe I am lucky to have survived the first real cold front of my post-dissection life.

Unfortunately I am not sure what to next time a fast moving cold front comes through.  I may shut the window, hoping the enclosed house will mitigate the sudden drop in pressure and allow me to acclimate to the pressure drop somehow.

I may hide under the covers and pray, or take a hot shower, or who knows.

If you have suffered similar barometric attacks I'd love to hear how you deal with the frightening symptoms.

Sheeez.  Living with Marfan, connective tissue complications and a dissected aorta is a challenge.

But I am up for it so bring it on.
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