At six o’clock one evening a few years ago, I really thought my time was up.
I had spent a couple of hours working in the garden, I’d bathed, eaten and was slumped down in an easy chair with a cup of coffee and a good book.
Suddenly, I felt strange. I checked my pulse. My heart was going so fast I couldn’t begin to count it. I checked my blood pressure and pulse with a machine we have. My pulse was well over 150 and my blood pressure alternated between the absurdly high and the absurdly low. The machine lit up with all the little warning lights with which it is fitted. I had no chest, jaw or arm pain.
It was all my own fault.
I had been trying to ease my crippling IBS by taking acidophilus and by changing my diet, and, as a result, my symptoms had eased slightly. Stupidly, I had forgotten that IBS never goes away. Cockily, I had started eating rough, brown, wholemeal bread packed with seeds. It was wonderful to taste good bread again, after years of eating nothing but white bread.
The day before I had eaten four slices of wonderful, rough bread and now I was paying the price. Who would have thought that a few slices of rather tasty bread could cause such awful disruption.
My wife, Antoinette, wanted to call an ambulance but I wouldn’t let her. I felt certain that my crazy heart antics were a result of the massive amount of wind that was in my intestines in general and my stomach in particular.
The stomach and the heart share a common nerve supply (the vagus nerve or tenth cranial nerve) but although doctors recognise that burping may, rarely, be a sign of cardiac dysfunction they do not recognise that cardiac dysfunction (including palpitations, fibrillations and so on) can be a result of intestinal wind pressing on the nerve.
It took about six hours for my heart to start beating normally again. I was exhausted, inevitably, and yawning frequently too. (The vagus nerve also triggers yawning.) To the orthodox professional, yawning is a sign that a patient is having a heart attack but it can also be a sign of too much wind. Oh, and the vagus nerve can cause pains in the left arm too.
How many people, I wonder, are being treated for heart disease when their initial signs and symptoms were caused by wind? A million? Probably more. How many are taking potentially lethal anticoagulants such as warfarin which they do not really need?
And how many patients (let alone doctors) know that all the drugs used to treat irregular heartbeats have potentially alarming side effects – including irregular heartbeats. Oh, and that ultimate side effect known as death.
It is, I’m pleased to say, now more widely recognised that wind or gas in the stomach and intestines can cause palpitations. The wind presses on the vagus nerve and causes it to skip beats and then, sometimes, for palpitations to develop.
(It is, of course, essential that anyone who develops palpitations, or any other heart symptoms, see a doctor before assuming that the problem is caused by irritable bowel syndrome.)