Monday, October 27, 2014

Chronic Vertigo and Dizziness After Open Heart Surgery

Next month it will be the three year anniversary of my ascending and descending aortic dissection.  I still struggle with chronic dizziness, light headedness and vertigo.  The feeling that I may pass out at any time really hasn't gotten much better and I refer these symptoms as my 'Swirling Head Syndrome'.
Vertigo, Dizziness and 'Blacking Out' are, I think, a result of 'Pump Head' and Blood Flow Issues
Unfortunately, I feel like I am going to faint at almost any given point during the day.  The wooziness though is especially pronounced when I move, stand up, bend over, walk, ride my bike or try to drive.

I do not drive any more for a number of reasons.  First and foremost I recognize I am a danger to those in the car with me and others on the road.

If you have had open heart surgery requiring significant time on a heart-lung machine then you too may be experiencing chronic dizziness, loss of memory, vertigo and other balance-awareness issues.

Some call this phenomena 'Pump Head' after the heart-lung pumping process.  My neurologist refers these symptoms as a result of 'embolistic events' occurring during and post-open heart surgery.

But I have pin-pointed four main symptom-sources of my Swirling Head Syndrome.  They include:

1. My eyes, especially my right eye, will loose focus and everything turns dark grey at random times.  These episodes last for five to ten minutes or so and when they happen I have to sit or lay on the ground to keep from falling over.  As soon as this begins I stop my bicycle, lay it down on the ground and sit until the vision returns.

It takes about three to five seconds for the eyesight to be completely gone and the blurry part lasts about two to three minutes usually.  My eye doctor does not know what causes this but she has told me I do have a small aneurysm in my right eye.

2. Secondly there is that tingly feeling in the top of my head I can best describe as like what I feel when breathing the knock-out gas before a colonoscopy; the kind of fuzzy feeling where my ears start ringing and my awareness seems to dissolve into a state of unconsciousness.  This I usually feel throughout the day and is usually associated with standing up, moving, walking, turning or any activity involving motion.

3. Third reason I become faint is when my right kidney starts hurting really bad or the false lumen in the descending dissection begins to tug and pull.  This is not an incision pain.  Rather this pain is an intense, strong hurt.  I experience this pain most days and have learned to 'breath' through the waves of intensity until they pass.

Sometimes my brain thankfully shuts down and I black out momentarily.  I have never had any of my doctors, not one, ever discuss pain management with me beyond the narcotics I was given for a brief period of time after the open heart surgery incisions.

4. Finally I have a difficult time processing complications.  When I say 'complications' I mean anything non-simple.  If I am walking and come up on a section of walkway with different color paver tiles laid in different patterns then I will quickly become dizzy and have to sit down and look up for the sensation to subside.

Before my drivers license was suspended I would encounter the same situation at intersections.  Soon I became terrified I was going to hurt someone with my inability to process how to navigate the automobile in and around other vehicles.

Well stocked grocery store shelves with hundreds of colorful, different shaped containers send me reeling.

But I am focusing on trying to improve my Swirling Head Syndrome issues through memory and concentration exercises, diet and physical therapy, and writing my blog.  But the blog writing is so frustrating.  Where before I had excellent word recall now I must use a thesaurus or dictionary with the composition of each paragraph.

Maybe, over time, the pump head and other aortic dissection related effects will begin to subside and resolve themselves.

I would really like to be able to drive again someday - that is if I can do so safely.

Apparently 'pump head' or 'Swirling Head Syndrome' is a fairly common challenge aortic dissectees deal with.  After three years it is still swirling through my head.  If you are struggling with the same, don't feel alone.

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