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Indirect Connections

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

For the past week, I’ve been having heart problems. Unfortunately, there is nothing to do for them. I think they are the same problems I’ve had in the past: tricuspid valve prolapse with some regurgitation. I recognize the sound when I listen to my heartbeat.

As the days pass without this particular symptom letting up, I’ve been thinking about my history of heart troubles. I found a connection in them, one that I don’t think would be obvious to anyone unless they practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine. It isn’t even an obvious connection to me. When my heart has troubles, I have simultaneous intestinal problems. The converse is not necessarily true.

Fainting Spells

Back when I was 20 years old (1995), I was on vacation in France after doing a study abroad program then working on an organic farm. The work was hard, there wasn’t enough food, but I still learned a lot from the experience. While I was on vacation, I fainted, in Lourdes, no less, where people go to miraculously get cured from incurable illnesses.

Just before I fainted, I felt something in my head and in my bowels. I told my parents I needed to use a toilet. When I woke up from the white out, in which I actually lost consciousness for a short time, I was sitting on the john in a public restroom. I had severe diarrhea. I had the now familiar chest pain and heart palpitations. I felt weak. So while my father visited the grotto, my mother and I sat in a cafe and had tea until I felt well enough to walk around again. I was exhausted. I needed a lot of rest for the next two days. I didn’t seek any medical treatment. I didn’t listen to my heart, so I don’t know if I had evidence of the tricuspid valve prolapse back then. In any case, I was fine again in a few days.

Fast forward to 2001, when I was 26 years old. One Saturday in October, I was standing in the customer service line at a grocery store in Hamden, CT, when I started to feel funny. I had a very sudden and very urgent need to defecate. I put my purse on the customer service desk (that’s how much my brain shut down) and headed for the bathroom. As I walked through the produce area, I whited out, fainted, collapsed to the ground, and woke up rather quickly. As soon as I got up and took a few steps, I whited out, fainted and collapsed again. After I collapsed for the third time, the manager told me to stay down. A crowd had formed around me. I told him to get me to the bathroom or I would  get up again and walk there myself. So he helped me to the ladies’ room and I let out an explosion of diarrhea. I was so weak, I had to sit on the floor for several minutes. Before I mustered the strength to stand up and wash my hands, two EMTs burst through the door. (I insisted on washing my hands when they tried to get me onto a gurney.)

When I was in the ambulance, the EMT told me my blood pressure was really low. The systolic pressure was under 50mmHg. He placed my head lower than the rest of my body and desperately fought with my veins to insert a IV saline drip. I passed out again.

I woke up on the hospital some time later. Later enough that tests had been run, my clothes replaced with a hospital gown, and the room darkened. The doctor told me I had an extra beat in my heart. He suggested that I go to see my internist or a cardiologist on Monday to find out what was causing it. He let me listen to the three beat rhythm. He told me to come back if I had any chest pain over the weekend.

It was at that point that I learned about my tricuspid valve prolapse.

Collapsing without Fainting

In 2007, right before my legs stopped working, I had a very serious bout of diarrhea. First I had a short bout in China, while on vacation. That cleared up. About a week later, the diarrhea started again, and it didn’t let up for months.

Shortly after the diarrhea started, I went to see a doctor because I collapsed at work. I had no white out or fainting, but my legs gave way. While I was waiting for the doctor at the clinic in the building where I worked, I had to lie down on the examining table. I was too weak and tired to sit up. She listened to my heart. Apparently the third beat was so prominent that she wanted to get a second opinion about what it might be. She called in another doctor. I felt like I was in a Saturday Night Live skit. Neither one of them knew what to do with it as they took turns listening to it. They had me see a cardiologist. I told them about the tricuspid valve prolapse, but they said that in my clinic record from the last few appointments there was no note of a third beat in my heart rhythm. It was at that point that I made a mental note that the problem was inconsistent. I didn’t always have a prolapse or at least not a severe one. But when it was bad, it was really bad.

Infection Connection

I spin my wheels sometimes, trying to figure out which of the tick-borne infections cause which of my symptoms, especially this two-fer combo of intestinal problems and heart troubles.

The first fainting spell happened in 1995, after my first tick bite at age 2 (1977), which is when I think I contracted Bartonella. This would suggest that Bartonella is the culprit, and is usually the conclusion that I return to after thinking it through. The second fainting spell was in 2001, about 6 months after my second tick bite, which is when I think I contracted Babesia and Lyme. It is possible that the stresses that these other two infections added to my body caused a Bartonella flare. The third collapse, which happened with a combination of heart and bowel troubles was in 2007, shortly after a huge stress on my body. At that point, I think all three infections went berserk (and triggered the cascade that left me unable to walk and suffering a painful, mysterious illness).

The confusing part is that when my treatments got rid of Babesia symptoms, the heart problems would go away until the other Babesia symptoms came back. For a long time, I’ve associated cardiac symptoms with Babesia. One possibility is that Babesia causes additional cardiac stress or symptoms, which makes the existing Bartonella-induced problem more noticeable. Another possibility is that the low blood pressure, which is definitely Babesia induced, stresses my heart and makes the tricuspid valve prolapse more pronounced.

On the other hand, I’ve read that Lyme Disease can cause all sorts of heart problems, some of which are very specific, like a heart block on an EKG, and which I haven’t suffered from. It can also cause other symptoms which are usually coincident to my altered heartbeat: chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue. So I don’t know of those symptoms are from both illnesses or directly resulting from the tricuspid valve prolapse (or the resulting regurgitation).

I know for sure that Bartonella has been the culprit in a lot of my intestinal symptoms. I can see it when I review my medical history as well as when I’ve done Bartonella-specific treatments. The question is whether it is behind my heart troubles. The closest answer I come to is that my vagus nerve seems to be strongly affected by the Bartonella infection, and that this nerve can get overstimulated easily in me and cause seemingly unrelated problems. The most obvious instance of this phenomenon is during the beginning of my menstrual cycle, which I’ve written about before. The tricuspid valve prolapse seems like a possible manifestation of irritation of my vagus nerve. Only, I’ve not been able to find a medical source that suggests any connection between the two.

I don’t think my tricuspid valve prolapse is structural because the problems caused by my tricuspid valve come and go. Instead, I think there is a functional problem in part of the system that regulates my heart contractions that causes intermittent problems. My best guess, based on everything else I’ve learned about the infections and about my body is that my vagus nerve is triggering the tricuspid valve prolapse, either directly, or indirectly, by its interactions with the sympathetic nerves that also control my heart.

I suspect that when my body has other stressors, like low blood pressure, dehydration, diarrhea, or other symptoms that are caused by the other infections, the vagus nerve gets overstimulated. That’s why it sometimes seems like the proximate cause of my heart troubles lies with something other than the Bartonella infection. Furthermore, the Bartonella infection has consistently wrought havoc in a variety of ways in my intestines, giving me all the classic symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When these act up, like they have in the past week and a half, starting with the hemorrhoid from hell, and culminating today in an ugly bout of diarrhea, the intestinal stress may trigger more vagus nerve symptoms, including my cardiac symptoms.

Wow. This isn’t the conclusion I expected to come to when I started writing. But it seems like it might help me figure out what to change about my coiling routine.

A Scatological Aside

While I was learning about intestines, I came across the Bristol Stool Scale. I found it incredibly useful. For example, sometimes I’ve said I had diarrhea when it wasn’t purely liquid, but rather an unformed goo with some small solids interspersed. The liquid-only form is a 7 on the BS Scale, and what I had was a 6 on the BS Scale, both of which are considered diarrhea. At the other end of the spectrum, when I talk about constipation, I’m still defecating daily (usually), but the stool is small and painful to pass. These times, my stool looks like a 1 or maybe a 2 on the BS scale, which are considered constipation. The worst is when I vacillate between a 1 and a 6 on a single day, like today.

The Bristol Stool Scale is a useful educational tool, especially for people with chronic bowel troubles who want to keep track of what’s going on.

What Should I Be Coiling For?

Let’s start with the symptoms, since these are the most accurate clues as to what is happening in my body.

  • Heart problems: third beat, chest pain, shortness of breath with minor exertion.
  • Intestinal troubles: constipation turned into urgent diarrhea today.
  • Tingles: this morning I had a tingling sensation in my right leg. This afternoon I have a dull ache on the right side of my body.
  • Eyes: lots of floaters, which I’ve had for a bit over a week but always forget to write down.
  • Musculoskeletal: pain in my right ribcage, pain in my hands, esp the bones
  • Night sweats: after several days of no sweats or waking up only slightly damp, I had a night sweat last night that was big enough to require a shirt change.
  • General: intermittents headaches, fatigue

The first two symptoms, I’ve now decided should be allocated to Bartonella. The tingling could be Bartonella or Lyme. The eye and bone problems are classical Lyme symptoms. The night sweats could still possibly be Babesia or might just be Bartonella, which sometimes has given me night sweats even when I had no other Babesia symptoms. And the general symptoms could be any of the infections.

I’ve been coiling the full protocol for Babesia for 11 days now (with one day skipped to do Lyme). I promised myself I would do it for at least two weeks. To give myself 14 full Babesia sessions, I’ll continue doing the full protocol until March 5, then I’ll stop coiling for Babesia altogether. At that point, I’ll go back to coiling my entire body for Bartonella every day, not just the key parts that keep me going while I work on Babesia as well. The big question is: Do I need to coil the back of my head even more for Bartonella, to get to the final push against the infection?

Meanwhile, I wasn’t planning on coiling for Lyme again until Saturday. But now I’m reconsidering, and I think I’ll do it tomorrow.

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