Epilepsy and Abnormal EKG’s

“Are you sure? I’ve never had a normal EKG.”

I don’t remember very much of what happened after the tonic-clonic seizure, but according to my husband and others who visited me in the hospital I was talking to everyone around me. I made sure the nurse who told me the doctor wanted to admit me for a 72 hour EEG knew that the ER copay was now waived. I begged the EEG technician to tell me I didn’t have photosensitive epilepsy. I was asking about being able to workout at the gym and continuing my weekly massages. The list goes on of conversations I had that I have no recollection of, but the one that sticks out is when they told us my EKG was normal and I asked if they were sure.

Around 1996 I started having heart palpitations a lot. Not just feeling it racing and pounding out of my chest, but feeling it skip beats, then double beat, then pound, then triple beat, then skip a beat. You get the picture. It was very scary. I would have chest pains, shortness of breath and everything else indicative of a heart problem. I thought I was going to have a heart attack at any moment and die suddenly at the age of 26. I went to my primary doctor and landed in the emergency room several times only to be repeatedly given the diagnosis of anxiety. They would patronizingly and sarcastically pat me on the leg and tell me to go home and relax. They guaranteed there was nothing wrong with me.

I lived with the “anxiety” symptoms for years. Accepting that it’s all it was. I was sitting at work one day and all of a sudden I had the worst heart palpitations I’d ever experienced. I could not catch my breath. I felt lightheaded and was going to pass out. An ambulance was called and the paramedic’s did an EKG. It was abnormal so they said it was best to take me to the hospital. I was taken to the University of Kentucky Hospital. They kept me for several days while continuously monitoring the EKG results. The attending physician told me it was abnormal but it was consistently abnormal so he wasn’t concerned. He discharged me and referred me to a cardiologist.

The cardiologist did yet another EKG and it came back with the same abnormality. He ordered a nuclear heart scan and a stress test. Both of these tests came back normal. I continued to follow up with him and have repeated EKG’s over the course of the next year or so. Every one of them came back with the same abnormality. The cardiologist finally told me that everyone’s heart is different and the EKG reference for “normal” doesn’t necessarily apply to every person. He told me that since it hadn’t changed over the course of testing and all other testing was normal that it was considered a normal EKG for me. I bought into his diagnosis.

When I had the tonic-clonic seizure 8/7/2013 the paramedic’s asked Ben what hospital to take me to. He said the first thing out of his mouth was “not UK.” When we got the hospital he chose they immediately began doing all kinds of tests. I had MRI’s, CT Scans, blood work, an EKG and of course an EEG. After the EKG was done Ben said they told us it was normal. I responded with “are you sure? I’ve never had a normal EKG.” She said she was positive. There were no abnormalities at all. I was stunned and confused. I asked them to get the records from UK so they could see I’d never had a normal one. They continued to monitor my heart throughout the stay and it continued to stay normal.

By the time I had the tonic-clonic, I was in status with partials.  The EEG showed I was having hundreds of them a day. I came to the conclusion that the abnormal EKG’s were somehow related to the seizure activity.  It was another discussion I had with my doctor where he didn’t tell me no.  The brain has an order of operations, as I wrote about in an earlier article.  It’s first job is to keep us alive; keep the heart pumping, lung’s breathing, kidney’s and liver functioning.  It does the best it can and under normal circumstances runs more effectively and efficiently than any super computer on the planet.  However, if it is in a state of almost constant abnormal electrical activity then it can’t keep up.  Things will go awry; in this case it was the beating of my heart.

It took me a while to research, ask questions and learn how things like this could happen and be related to epilepsy.  How did I have multiple abnormal EKG’s over the course of several years’ before the tonic-clonic and then have completely normal ones after.  I was puzzled, but my husband explained it in a way I could understand.  We are both technical people so he put it in those terms for me.  And, when he said it in front my epileptologist to make sure it was somewhat correct, my doctor didn’t disagree with him.  Ben explained it like this; “The brain is a computer and the electrical impulses are it’s operating system. Everything in your body started going haywire because it’s operating system wasn’t working correctly.  The tonic-clonic was your brain blue screening like a computer that completely crashed.  It rebooted and reset everything.  Your EKG’s aren’t abnormal anymore becuase your brain is able to work more effectively.  Add in the AED and it’s like you got a new computer.”

While it may seem like a crazy explanation it is plausible.  If the brain is in a constant state of abnormal electrical activity then it can throw every bodily function off.  It’s a command center that is constantly sending impulses to the body to perform certain tasks.  If the command center itself is out of control then how can it properly control the rest of the body.  It can’t.

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