Mikulski back to work after being in hospital

Senator taking medicine for irregular heartbeat

July 19, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Smiling and ruddy-cheeked, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski returned to work yesterday after a hospital stay and diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat last week.

The Maryland Democrat, who turns 69 tomorrow, was hospitalized for tests after complaining of feeling tired. Doctors at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore diagnosed atrial fibrillation and Mikulski was put on medication to control it.

After returning to the Senate floor yesterday evening, Mikulski said she is feeling much better after of weeks of struggling to muster her usual energy.

"I'm feeling more like myself. I'm a very spunky, sturdy person, and I was de-spunked," she said in an interview. "I was just so chronically tired, I felt like I had to work twice as hard to get the same energy output."

Mikulski said that her doctors told her to eat a low-fat diet and get more regular exercise - especially walking, even in small doses. She said doctors told her that those minor lifestyle changes, along with medication, ought to keep her feeling well.

"It's essentially the same thing they would tell anybody over 65," she said.

She said she would be closely monitored to check on how the medication to control her condition is working, particularly for the next month or so.

Mikulski left the hospital Friday morning, and said she spent the weekend at her sister's house, resting up and visiting with friends away from the ringing phone.

The top and bottom chambers of the heart usually work in concert. Atrial fibrillation is when the upper chambers begin to beat erratically - often much more quickly than is normal - and then throw off the bottom chambers, which also beat more rapidly.

If not treated, it can cause a multitude of problems, including congestive heart failure or stroke caused by blood clots that form because blood is not moving efficiently through the heart. More than 2 million Americans suffer from an irregular heartbeat, according to a release put out by the hospital.

But the condition - which becomes more common with age - is easily treatable with medication, said Dr. Thea Calkins, director of the Heart Program for Women at Mercy. Fatigue is a common symptom because the erratic beating of the heart saps a patient's energy, said Calkins, who did not treat the senator.

Mikulski said that she noticed a difference almost immediately after her doctors put her on the medication, and that the improvement is like "night and day" in terms of her energy and vitality.

"It's coming back slowly," she said. "Every day's a better day."

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