Did you know that approximately 92 million Americans are currently living with some form of heart disease?1 Sobering, isn’t it?
And yes, talking about heart health can be a sobering topic. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about. Like so many health problems …
Good communication could be key to preventing more serious damage, so it’s worth having the hard conversations.
As you know, the heart is one of the most essential organs in your body. A healthy, well-functioning heart pumps blood through the body’s circulatory system to all your tissues and organs. Once there, the blood delivers nutrients and oxygen to each cell, and carries away carbon dioxide and any other debris. It all sounds pretty simple, but any hiccup in this system can have real consequences, and lead to the development of cardiovascular disease.
Now, the term “cardiovascular disease” encompasses a whole host of heart-related issues, including:
- Heart attack
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve problems2
Each of these conditions can have major health repercussions that are best avoided. So, to maintain good health, it’s absolutely essential to recognize any symptoms that might be indicative of cardiovascular disease.
Here are four heart symptoms that should not be ignored:
1. Chest Pain
Chest pain is probably the most obvious symptom when it comes to recognizing the signs of heart disease.
Chest-related heart pain — also known as “angina” — is the result of inadequate blood flow to the heart. Now, there are two types of angina:
- Stable angina, which is usually brought on by physical exertion or emotional stress.3
- Unstable angina, which occurs without exertion. Unstable angina is unpredictable, and may even come on during rest. This can lead to the development of a heart attack, so it’s important to get urgent attention.4
It’s helpful to be able to differentiate between heart-related chest pain and other types of chest pain. For example, with heart-related chest pain, you may feel pressure, like your chest is being squeezed. The pain might also radiate to your back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or throat.5
This differs slightly from the “burning” sensation of acid reflux — also known as “heartburn.”6 It also differs from muscular pain, which you might experience after certain activities, like swimming, or weight-lifting, that specifically target your pectoral muscles.7
Regardless, it’s best to consult with your doctor with any kind of chest pain. It can be hard to distinguish between the subtleties of each type of pain, and you don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
Before your appointment, you may want to jot down some specific notes. When does the chest pain come on? Is it out of the blue? Or does it occur after physical exertion? What does the pain feel like? Is it a stabbing pain? A dull ache? Does it come in waves? Being as descriptive as possible can help your doctor make a correct, fast diagnosis.
2. Heart Palpitations
This symptom can feel like a fluttering or a pounding in your chest. You may also have the sensation your heart is racing, or even skipping beats.
Sometimes, heart palpitations are relatively harmless. Other times, they’re cause for concern.
They can be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm — also known as arrhythmia.
One common cause of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation — or “AFib.” With AFib, the upper two chambers of your heart (the atria) beat out of coordination with the lower two chambers of your heart (the ventricles). The atria also beat in a chaotic, irregular fashion.8 The result? Heart palpitations.
Now, you don’t want AFib to go unchecked. It can lead to the risk of two serious conditions:
1. Stroke: Because the heart isn’t pumping properly, blood can pool in the heart’s upper chambers, and this can turn into a blood clot. If this clot reaches the brain, it has the potential to cause a stroke.
2. Heart failure: When your heart beats too fast, its chambers may not get the chance to completely fill with blood. As a result, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.9
Aside from AFib, there are two other types of arrhythmia:
- Tachycardia: An average resting heart rate is about 60 to 100 beats per minute. When it beats more rapidly than this, it’s called “tachycardia.” In this condition, the heart beats rapidly in both the upper and lower chambers. Unchecked, tachycardia can lead to heart failure and heart attack.10
- Bradycardia: Bradycardia occurs when your heart beats fewer than 60 times a minute. With bradycardia, your heart may not be able to pump enough oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your organs. You might feel faint, dizzy, short of breath, or easily fatigued.11
Now, palpitations aren’t necessarily indicative of heart disease. It’s not uncommon to experience heart palpitations during times of intense emotional stress, or when you’re feeling nervous. Palpitations can also be caused by smoking and certain cold medications. So keep these factors in mind if you’re experiencing an abnormal heartbeat.12
A medical doctor will always be your best guide when it comes to pinpointing the cause of heart palpitations. EKG’s and other tests can measure your heart rate and help diagnose any heartbeat abnormalities.
So if you’re concerned about heart palpitations, please see a doctor immediately.
3. Shortness of Breath
We all have trouble catching our breath from time to time. After all, walking uphill when we’re out of shape can get the best of us, leaving us huffing and puffing.
But it’s important to note that shortness of breath can also be a sign of heart failure. So, if you tend to find yourself gasping for air with mild exertion — or even when you’re lying down — you might want to take your shortness of breath seriously.
How does heart failure affect breathing? Well, a malfunctioning heart has a decreased capacity to empty and fill itself with blood. This can increase the pressure in the blood vessels around the lungs, which then interferes with normal breathing.13
Keep in mind, trouble breathing may also be caused by other issues. Problems with the respiratory system — like allergies, pneumonia, or COPD — can also affect your ability to breathe normally.
It’s important to make an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing chronic or sudden breathing problems. Your medical provider will be able to help you decipher the cause of your shortness of the breath and recommend any lifestyle changes or remedies that can help.
4. Dizziness and Lightheadedness
A heart attack or stroke can leave you feeling dizzy and lightheaded. In fact, older adults occasionally experience lightheadedness as the only symptom of heart attack or stroke.14
Lightheadedness can also be the result of another cardiovascular condition — low blood pressure. Although low blood pressure isn’t nearly as dangerous as heart attack or stroke, it can cause you to faint, and that can result in injury. Low blood pressure can be caused by dehydration, allergies, pregnancy, and certain medications.15
Like other heart symptoms, lightheadedness or dizziness can also stem from a variety of non-heart related causes. Inner ear problems, stress, nervousness, low blood sugar, dehydration, and anemia all have the potential to make you a feel a bit woozy.16
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of dizziness and lightheadedness. Again, it’s a good idea to bring notes with you. How long does your dizziness last? Is it a spinning sensation? Specifics can help your doctor understand the root cause of your lightheadedness.
Any of the above four symptoms may be a sign of heart attack. But it’s helpful to be familiar with other possible symptoms, as well. These include:
- Upper body pain that extends beyond the chest — including the arms, back, shoulders, teeth, and jaw
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
Risk Factors For Heart Disease
It’s especially important to take precautions if you’re at higher risk for heart disease. Here are some of the most common risk factors:
- Age (55 or older)
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Being overweight
- Not getting exercise
- Unhealthy diet
- A family history of heart disease
- History of preeclampsia during pregnancy18
And while you can’t change some risk factors — like family history — you can change others.
Consider coming up with a healthy heart plan. Lifestyle changes, like eating well, losing weight, getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking may help reduce your risk of heart disease.
You can also try my Heart Defense, which is formulated to help boost your body’s own production of nitric oxide — a chemical that promotes blood flow and good cardiovascular health.19
The Heart Of The Matter
Heart disease is serious business. But recognizing the signs of any underlying heart problems can help ensure you live a long and healthy life.
If you’re concerned about any of these four symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss them. They’ll check for high blood pressure (and low pressure) and run any tests that might be needed. Of course, it’s a good idea to be getting regular check-ups, too!
And if any of these signs come on suddenly — don’t brush them off. Seek urgent medical care so you can get the help you may need ASAP.