Photo: Janine Gelineau, courtesy of UConn Health
Two years ago Pat L., 74, got herself a Fitbit Charge HR as a retirement gift. “I’d been sitting at a desk staring at a computer for far too long and knew I was out of shape in more ways than one. I wanted a reminder to be active,” she says. Pat checked her step count regularly, and then several months ago she started paying attention to other numbers on her tracker as well: “I’d been feeling ill for a couple of weeks and noticed that my resting heart rate kept increasing. It was going up each day by about 5 points,” she says.
Confused and concerned, Pat saw her doctor. But several chest x-rays, heart monitoring tests, and other appointments later she still didn’t have an answer for why her pulse was racing. Then one morning last January, the Connecticut retiree found herself struggling even to walk the short distance down the hallway of her home, and her Charge HR showed that her heart rate had skyrocketed. She knew she was in trouble, and called 911
“The medic in the ambulance told me they were going to take me to emergency at UConn, where they had a state of the art cardiac center,” she says. At that point, lying down on a stretcher, she remembers that her heart rate was a whopping 140 beats per minute, well above what the American Heart Association recommends for vigorous exercise for folks 70 and over.
Within two hours, the problem had been diagnosed: Multiple blood clots in both of Pat’s lungs. Such clots, also called pulmonary embolisms, can cause heart attack or even sudden death. Already, the extra strain being put on her heart had caused it to enlarge by 65 percent.
Pat and her doctor chose to move forward with a high-tech treatment that delivered strong clot-busting medicine directly into the lungs through an artery catheter in her leg. Within 24 hours, the clots were gone and her heart was well on its way to recovery.
Needless to say, Pat has never been more fond of her fitness tracker, and continues to wear it every day. “My doctor at UConn, JuYong Lee, said wearing my Fitbit tracker saved my life,” she says.
Pat’s Advice for Others
Don’t ignore your numbers. Because Pat had been paying attention to her tracking data, she knew that her usual resting heart rate hovered between 68 and 70, and was able to notice immediately when it started to change. “The real clue for me that something odd was going on was the fact that my Fitbit tracker kept showing that increase in resting heart rate,” she says.
Share your health story—you never know who it’ll help. “I know of four friends who went out and bought Fitbit trackers after hearing about what happened to me. One came up to me just a few weeks ago and said, ‘I owe you gratitude,’” says Pat. “When I asked why, he explained that he’d noticed something looked ‘off’ about his heart rate history and saw his doctor. Turns out, he had an undiagnosed problem with a heart valve.”
Move your body rain or shine. Now fully recovered, Pat is focusing on getting out in the garden as often as she can, making sure she’s getting enough sleep, and aiming for 3,500 steps a day. “I wear my Fitbit tracker 24-7. It tracks my sleep, I look at my resting heart rate almost every day. And if I’m low on steps and the weather’s bad, I’ll go to a department store nearby to walk indoors.”
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This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.