A man bizarrely spent seven Halloweens in a row in hospital with a life-threatening heart condition.
Chris Bull, 25, was first rushed to hospital in October 2012 with breathlessness and tight chest pains, following a bout of tonsillitis.
Doctors told him he had suffered myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle. If left untreated, it can lead to sudden death.
Mr Bull, of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, was treated with anti-inflammatory medication and claims doctors said it would never occur again.
But by strange coincidence, the client advisor has suffered the same symptoms each Halloween and been forced to return to hospital. Last year was the first time since 2011 that he spent Halloween at home and not in hospital.
In many cases of myocarditis, the cause is not known. Mr Bull – who has ‘never liked’ Halloween – believes the anxiety of the big day causes his condition to flare up. However, it is not a known risk factor.
Recurrent myocarditis after treatment is rare, therefore medics are allegedly baffled as to how to stop his potentially life-threatening attacks.
Mr Bull lives in fear the ‘excruciating’ pain in his chests will return at any moment.
Chris Bull, 25, has bizarrely spent every Halloween for seven years in hospital with a life-threatening heart condition which he initially mistook for tonsillitis
Every Halloween, Mr Bull has been forced to return to hospital (pictured) because his symptoms of chest pain and breathlessness come back
Speaking of his fear around Halloween, Mr Bull said: ‘I hate being alone at that time of year because I feel vulnerable and worried I won’t be able to call an ambulance for myself if I need to.
‘I was once driving to work in the run up to Halloween and during the drive I started having a panic attack because I thought it was a heart attack.
‘But it’s got to the point now where I refuse to let it take over my life and I still go out as much as I can.’
Mr Bull was 18 when he first found out about his condition. He had been ill with tonsillitis but decided to go his GP when he felt short of breath.
Within 30 minutes of his doctor’s appointment, Mr Bull was being rushed to hospital in the back of an ambulance.
He said: ‘I’d had tonsillitis and gone to bed feeling drowsy and drained, but when I woke up I felt breathless and had this awful pain in my chest so I rang the doctor.
‘My dad took me to the GP but within half an hour of arriving they had me in the back of an ambulance and were rushing me to hospital telling me they thought I had a potentially deadly condition I’d never even heard of.’
Myocarditis can affect a person of any age, and most often affects otherwise healthy, young, athletic types in their early 30s.
It is not always clear why the condition happens. If a cause is identified, it is usually the result of a virus, including the common cold and herpes.
Mr Bull, who wants to raise awareness of how the symptoms of myocarditis can be mistaken for winter viruses, said: ‘I spent 24 hours in hospital and they put me on beta blockers to relieve the pressure on my heart.
‘Doctors told me with this kind of episode you either die or it happens once and then never happens again.
Mr Bull, who wants to raise awareness of how the symptoms of myocarditis can be mistaken for winter viruses, lives in fear that the ‘excruciating’ pain in his chests will return. However, 2019 marked the first year Mr Bull did not have an episode. He is pictured with his mother, Denise
WHAT IS MYOCARDITIS?
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. There are no specific causes of the condition but it is usually triggered by a virus.
Some of the most common infections which cause myocarditis, are those called adenovirus and Coxsackie B.
It can be caused by the common cold, hepatitis B and C, and herpes simplex virus.
The most common symptoms of the condition include chest pain, a fever, a fast heartbeat, tiredness and shortness of breath.
If the inflammation damages the heart muscle or the fibres that conduct electrical pulses to the heart, complications can develop.
They can develop quickly, and include sudden loss of consciousness, an abnormally fast, slow or irregular heartbeat.
In very severe cases the condition is fatal, causing heart failure or sudden death. The inflammation enlarges the heart and creates scar tissue, forcing it to work harder and therefore making it weaker.
In most cases of viral myocarditis, the illness goes away and there are no complications.
But in rare cases when inflammation is severe, there can be damage to the heart which needs monitoring and possibly a heart transplant.
Myocarditis can reoccur, but there is no known way to prevent this. The risk of recurrence is low, around 10 to 15 per cent, according to Myocarditis Foundation.
It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of myocarditis because there is no widely available test for it.
In 2010, approximately 400,000 people died of heart muscle disease – cardiomyopathy that includes myocarditis – worldwide.
Expert consensus opinion estimates that up to 40 per cent of dilated cardiomyopathy results from myocarditis, according to the National Organisation for Rare Disorders.
‘So when I was laid in a hospital bed with the same symptoms the same time the following year, and the one after that, I was terrified.’
Most people suffering with myocarditis – the third leading cause of sudden death in children and young adults – recover without complications.
But in rare cases when inflammation is severe, there can be damage to the heart which may leave patients needing a heart transplant.
The inflammation enlarges the heart and creates scar tissue, forcing the vital organ to work harder and therefore making it weaker.
Mr Bull said he is under the impression that his heart is not damaged and otherwise healthy, and he suffers with flare-ups of recurrent symptoms.
He said: ‘It almost always happens at Halloween so I dread that time of year.
‘We don’t even speak about it as a family because it’s such a difficult and worrying time of year for us.
‘I never liked Halloween as a child anyway but I do find it bizarre that it always seems to be around then that it happens, maybe it’s because of the stress I associate with it now.’
There is no known way to prevent recurrence of myocarditis. However, the risk of recurrence is low, around 10 to 15 per cent, according to Myocarditis Foundation.
Toxins and allergic reactions to drugs have been linked to myocarditis. Stress itself is not a known risk factor, according to the NHS and other health bodies.
According to Mr Bull, his condition is managed well, and therefore doctors do not need to carry out regular tests.
He said: ‘There’s nothing doctors can do other than to manage the pain. When it does happen it’s horrible, the pain can be so excruciating.
‘It’s like having someone sat on my chest and then I feel really out of breath and have sharp pains right in the centre of my chest. It’s also the fear of what’s going to happen to me.’
Mr Bull added: ‘2019 was the first year I went a full 12 months without an episode so I’m hoping 2020 will be the start of something new.
‘Maybe if I can get through this year without any flare ups I can get away with never having it again like the doctors said all those years ago.’
Since his first flare up with myocarditis as a teen, Mr Bull has tried his best to live without limits.
He said: ‘If anyone looked at my life they wouldn’t think I live with a serious heart condition, I still go out and socialise every weekend with my friends.’
Cardiomyopathy UK, a charity dedicated to supporting individuals with various heart conditions, estimates that 2,000 people are hospitalised every year as a result of myocarditis – and one person a week dies because of it.
Joel Rose, chief executive of Cardiomyopathy UK said: ‘Chris was very young when he first began having problems with his heart and his experience of repeated episodes most years since his diagnosis is unusual.
‘His story is a reminder of how important it is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cardiac diseases such as cardiomyopathy and myocarditis.
‘It’s particularly important during the winter season to recognise when flu-like symptoms are lingering for too long, as this is an indicator there could be something more serious going on.’
British Heart Foundation (BHF) said they were unable to comment on individual cases, but said that flare-ups can occur for some patients.
Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse at the BHF, said: ‘Myocarditis is a very painful condition. It can be caused by a viral illness, and can lie dormant for some time or flare up when it’s least expected.
‘If someone experiences symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath at any time of the year they should seek medical advice to be on the safe side. If these symptoms come out of the blue please call 999.’