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After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track
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After being treated for atrial fibrillation, Boyd is now back on track

Running has been an important part of Boyd's life, so imagine his shock when a heart condition he had never heard of threatened to put a stop to it.

Boyd’s heart story

In 2017, Boyd, now 64, stopped in his tracks while jogging, feeling breathless and fatigued. It was unusual because he was used to covering several kilometres at a time, but he shrugged it off and put off going to the doctor. Now he wants to raise awareness about atrial fibrillation, which is an abnormal heart rhythm.

"When I was running I suddenly felt out of breath, even though I’d only gone a couple of hundred metres. I usually run for kilometres with no issues.

When your heart is racing like that, you’re out of breath and suddenly feeling really fatigued – well, it’s like nothing else that I’d experienced before, you know something isn’t right.

I put off going to the doctor for a long time. I did end up seeing my GP who sent me for an ECG and then an echocardiogram. That didn’t show any abnormalities and then my symptoms just stopped. But seven months later it came back. I could feel my heart racing and sometimes I felt dizzy. I went to accident and emergency and they diagnosed atrial fibrillation. They said “Boyd, you’re in atrial fibrillation right now.”

I was put on medication to treat the abnormal heart rhythm, but I couldn’t tolerate it. I had some anxiety and depression and thankfully I was offered a cardiac ablation. In hospital they insert a catheter into your vein to get to the part of the heart that’s causing the problem and they zap it and burn it. The ablation was done in May 2018 and has been a complete success. I feel blessed.
Atrial fibrillation affected my whole outlook on life. Exercise has always been such an important part of my life and I was robbed of being able to do that.
I think anyone of any age, if they experience symptoms that are at odds with how they usually feel, they should see their doctor. I could get an attack just sitting at the computer or doing the dishes. 

I’ve been riding my bike for a while now – I usually ride for about three and a half hours – but I wanted to get back to my first love, running. Running has never been a chore for me.

I was worried about running again, but I finally bit the bullet. I talked to my doctor about it a few times and he said sure, just start running. It was uncomfortable for four or five weeks and there has been some muscle soreness, but no breathlessness. It has been a gradual process. I’m doing about two hours now, twice a week.

I consider myself reasonably well educated, but I knew nothing about atrial fibrillation before I was diagnosed with it. I’ve done a great deal of reading since then, but I suspect there are thousands of people who don’t realise they have atrial fibrillation, or they don’t understand the condition very well.

I’ve read that the numbers of people living with atrial fibrillation is increasing in Australia. I hate to think there are people who are going through what I went through. It’s critical that the condition is diagnosed and treated early, in order to prevent serious complications like having a stroke.  

I think sometimes people ignore symptoms and put off going to the doctor because they’re worried it might be something serious – I know I did – but it’s best to get checked out.

High blood pressure is one of the biggest causes of atrial fibrillation, but most people don’t know it. Smoking and drinking are part of it. I was carrying a bit of excess weight – not a lot, about 15 extra kilos – but I don’t drink much or smoke.   

Getting older increases your risk or getting it and I think that having a family member who has atrial fibrillation increases your chance of getting it. We have an ageing population; we have an obesity epidemic and people aren’t doing enough exercise.

A lot of men are reluctant to admit something is wrong because they see it as a sign of weakness, or they’re worried that they’ll find out that something is seriously wrong. When you’re young you think you’re bullet-proof, but things catch up with you when you get older.

There are a lot of reasons why we should improve our lifestyle, this is just one more reason to do it. It can be as simple as someone saying to their partner, ‘maybe we can do some exercise together."

Boyd’s one piece of advice

If you have these symptoms, don’t mess around, go straight to the emergency department at a major hospital.


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