“I’m afraid your BMI [Body Mass Index] indicates that you are obese,” said the woman doing my one-to-one assessment. “But you don’t look obese.” No, I didn’t think I did. But that didn’t change the result. I’ll come straight out with it: 2019 has turned into the year of the health scares. The year I have to face facts and make sensible choices. So please indulge me as I share the beginnings of my journey so far, in order to perhaps persuade others to pay a bit more attention to what’s going on with their body and heed any warning signs.
It all started in January when I noticed a pain in the left side of my chest just under my boob, close to my heart. I convinced myself that it was my hiaitus hernia spreading its tentacles of pain a little further afield. Everyone else said it was stress because I was rehearsing a big role in a play. I knew the cause wasn’t either. Then I noticed that I started to get breathless rather too soon when walking up a slope, pedalling on the bike in the gym, or during a slightly exerting routine in a Keep Fit class – all unusual for me, someone who is fit (for my age) and rushes around as if on casters. This was something different, new.
I took my blood pressure and it was sky high despite my existing medication. Then I remembered my paternal grandfather and uncles who had all suddenly dropped dead in their fifties due to a massive heart attack. It appeared to me that my body was gearing up for such an event. I went to see my GP, who in the circumstances, took my symptoms seriously. An ECG showed a problem. He referred me to a cardiologist.
My cardiologist confirmed that I had a heart ‘issue’ and, amongst other things prescribed an angina spray (bit of a giveaway), told me to lose weight and reduce my alcohol consumption (excess in both being a contributory factor in heart disease). She ordered a couple more tests. That was in February: I’ve had the tests but no results, so I’m taking that as a good sign.
In the meantime, I was sent an appointment for a blood test as part of a ‘Hypertension Review’. I could only assume that this review was a follow-up to the physical MOT I had on turning 60, when my dangerously high blood pressure was discovered. In a way, I could say that it all started back then, six years ago when, although my high blood pressure was the big story, there were also passing references to my need to lose weight, lower my bad cholesterol level and cut down on my alcohol consumption.
While I waited for the ‘Hypertension Review’ blood test results, I learnt a few things about pain. At first I was reluctant to use the angina spray whenever I felt the pain I described earlier. Not just because it would scream HEART PROBLEM the minute I got it out of my handbag. I also didn’t want to waste it on what might be considered minor palpitations, in case it became less effective when I needed it to combat BIG PAIN. My GP told me off, explaining that regular use might prevent a major pain incident and/or the need for an ambulance!
The major pain incidents appeared out of the blue and in relation to my hiaitus hernia, which had been diagnosed and kept under control for some 25 years. This new attack was so severe that my medication was quadrupled for a period of 8 weeks and my GP advised me to cut down on alcohol, especially to avoid spirits and fizzy drinks – which would also help me to lose some weight, as advised by both him and the cardiologist. So, if I wanted to reduce the pain more quickly, I would need to cut out my alcoholic tipples (poisons!!) of choice: gin with tonic, and Prosecco or other sparkling champagne method wine. What a pain indeed!
So, in fact some people might say that it all started then with the hiaitus hernia 25 years ago, as it is often associated with stress, and can signal or precede hypertension and heart problems. Plus I was warned then against drinking spirits, but I didn’t drink any at that time and so forgot all about it. Until about four or five years ago when I enthusiastically embraced the new gin craze, around about the same time I discovered an intolerance to wine – so changed to the more tolerated (or so I thought) Prosecco instead.
It was the result of the ‘Hypertension Review’ blood test that was the shocker. But, with hindsight, it was inevitable: my blood sugar (HbA1c) level was in the prediabetic range. It was this result that initiated an invitation to attend a special six month NHS programme to help those with prediabetes to change their lifestyle and avoid life threatening Type 2 diabetes.
But the blood sugar level wasn’t the only score to condemn me: at my one-to-one initial assessment for the Programme I was found to be obese, and my waist measurement of over 80cm also did for me. To be honest, I started struggling with my weight in the mid-1990s, by which time I had become a full-time member of the after work wine bar class, about the same time my hiaitus hernia was diagnosed, and I started to suffer with depression. In the past I’ve been a lot heavier – no I won’t mince words, I’ve been fatter – partly no doubt due to the regular consumption of alcohol calories. But, despite all the advice over the years to lose weight and drink less, no doctor looking at the numbers on the scales had muttered the ‘O’ word in my hearing before. That has really jolted me into action.
At the time of getting these results, because of my continuous efforts over recent years to lose weight and reduce and/or give up alcohol, I was probably slimmer and lighter than I have been in years. And in the last year I have reduced my cholesterol levels to normal. But I’m pleased that I’ve been chosen for this (NHS funded) Programme, that aims to support me to change my lifestyle. Not just for the better, but for good, to avoid the dreaded diabetes, not to mention a range of other life threatening diagnoses, especially in the week when massive billboards declare that obesity is a cause of cancer. I’m giving it my best shot (I’ve already given up alcohol) as success will help me to potentially come off some, if not all, of my current medication.
I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.
Christine Ingall 8 July 2019