Patient Story: Donna and Atrial Fibrillation

“I’m normally pretty energetic, but suddenly I didn’t feel well. I was exhausted, I couldn’t breathe. And I was miserable,” said Donna. She was so congested, she was going through a box of tissues a day. Doctors at a local hospital originally diagnosed Donna with pneumonia, but she got frustrated when she didn’t get better, so she checked herself out. A friend suspected it might be heart trouble and suggested she look for answers at University of Michigan.

It was a good thing she did.

At the U-M Women’s Heart Program, the Nurse Practitioner took Donna’s pulse and felt it racing. But Donna couldn’t feel a thing. “I had no outward feelings at all,” she said. Donna’s cardiologist explained to her that women’s heart symptoms can be different than men’s and what she had was atrial fibrillation. Her heart was beating so fast, it congested her – leading other doctors to think that she had pneumonia. But it was atrial fibrillation. An EKG confirmed it.

“All that time I was sick, I had no idea it was my heart. I guess I should have known better because for years, all three of my brothers had serious heart disease. Mine manifested itself differently because I’m a woman, but it’s the same disease my brothers have. I just felt it differently,” said Donna.

And because U-M takes a holistic approach to women’s health, Donna’s cardiologist collaborated with the U-M doctors who treat Donna’s diabetes and blood pressure issues, and they came up with a plan that kept everything under control with medication, and avoided invasive surgery. “They look at the complete woman and they consider lifestyle and levels of energy. Everyone I interact with over there impresses me,” said Donna.

Donna knows firsthand that having a life-altering heart condition doesn’t have to alter your life – especially if you have the experts at U-M taking care of your health. She’s back to traveling, golfing and dancing – back to the person she was. “I’m living my life, my way,” said Donna.

Patient Resources

Heart Disease in Women Information Guide