Cyclist Says: ‘Listen To Your Heart’

An occasional skipped heart beat is harmless, but having dizzy spells or other symptoms can sometimes signal big problems. Here’s a survivor’s guide to dangerous heart rhythms.

Heidi Dohse

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Heidi Dohse
Competitive cyclist Heidi Dohse is proof that heart patients can do amazing things.

“I was lucky that a routine test revealed my dangerously fast heartbeat before it was too late,” says avid cyclist and pacemaker patient Heidi Dohse, who is back on course and teaming up with the Heart Rhythm Society to raise awareness of the problem. “Knowing more about common arrhythmias could save your life!”

Arrhythmias, also called heart rhythm disorders, occur when the electrical system, or “wiring,” of the heart muscle goes awry. Millions of people experience arrhythmias at some point in their lives. (The heart doesn’t beat with the accuracy of a Swiss watch.) However, some abnormal heart rhythms can be serious or even deadly. When drugs don’t work, doctors implant a cardiac pacemaker to steady irregular pulses.

Dohse recalls feeling lightheaded as a young teen and having trouble finding her pulse during high school PE class—telltale symptoms that were overlooked until routine pre-op testing at age 18 confirmed her arrhythmia. Now 48, and on her seventh pacemaker, the athlete’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

“I am training to ride almost 800 miles in eight days for the Amgen Tour of California (May 12-19) as a way of promoting a heart healthy lifestyle and inspiring heart patients and their families. Living with a heart condition has helped me understand that I am accountable for my own health. If you are having symptoms or can’t find your pulse, don’t be in denial or feel foolish. Take charge of your health, listen to your body, and talk to your doctor about what is best for you and your life. Heart patients can accomplish amazing things!” she says.

Know your risk and protect your heart with these tips from the Heart Rhythm Society:

  1. Small choices, big heart benefits: Exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid smoking.
  2. Know your rhythm: Pay attention to abnormal heart rhythms—palpitations, fast or slow heart rates, or a fluttering in your chest. Shortness of breath can also signal arrhythmias.
  3. By The Numbers: Treat and monitor health conditions that can contribute to heart problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  4. Family First: Know your family medical history and understand the associated risk for other cardiovascular related conditions, like heart failure.
  5. Don’t Skip A Beat: Document your symptoms and discuss them with a clinician or electrophysiologist to determine the best treatment options for you.

For information on how to check your pulse, visit

Photo courtesy of Heidi Dohse.

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