25 Heart Disease Symptoms You Can’t Afford to Ignore
Learn the warning signs before it's too late.
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to the CDC, approximately 610,000 Americans die every year from some sort of heart-related illness. For context, know that that accounts for about one in every four deaths. But just because heart disease is so common and cruel doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that you can do to protect yourself from it.
On the contrary, even just making yourself aware of symptoms can help you, as acting fast can mean the difference between life and death. So read on to learn about some of the common (and not so common) heart disease symptoms—and for more great prevention tips, check out the 30 Best Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk.
When valvular heart disease, a condition that affects the valves of the heart’s chambers and impairs the flow of blood throughout the body, is left to worsen, it can affect other parts of the body and cause serious discomfort. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, swelling in the feet and ankles often occurs as a result of this impaired blood flow—and when this happens, it’s important to see a doctor and discuss treatment options.
No, sweating profusely during an intense workout isn’t a sign that you’re about to have a stroke. Rather, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that when individuals experiencing common heart attack symptoms began to sweat, it was almost always an indication that they were indeed having a heart attack.
Shortness of Breath While Bending
Patients with advanced heart failure might find themselves out of breath—not just when they walk, but even when they’re doing something as simple as bending over to tie their shoes. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure, which concluded that bendopnea, as they call it, is not a risk factor for heart disease (as previously thought) but a symptom. And if you’re worried about the health status of your heart, then check out the 30 Best Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk.
Fatigue with no known origins is one of the more common symptoms of a heart attack. In fact, when researchers worked with the American Heart Association to analyze 515 women diagnosed with a heart attack, they found that 70 percent of them had experienced unusual fatigue, with some of them displaying the symptom months before their diagnosis.
Much of the reason that people with heart problems are so fatigued all the time is because they have so much trouble sleeping and staying asleep. In the same study from the American Heart Association, scientists found that 48 percent of the women who had a heart attack dealt with sleep disturbances prior to their diagnosis—and for the most part, these issues subsided as soon as their heart disease was dealt with.
According to the Mayo Clinic, atherosclerotic disease—the result of the hardening of your arteries—can cause neck and throat pain. This symptom is called “referred pain,” and it’s simply the result of your body transferring the pain of your clogged vessels to another part of your body.
On its own, a dry cough is usually not indicative of anything serious (especially during cold and flu season when practically everyone is hacking up a lung). However, if you’re also experiencing some of the other symptoms on this list, then your persistent cough could be an indication that you’re dealing with heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. Evidently, heart failure causes blood to “back up” in the pulmonary veins and leak into the lungs, thereby making you cough excessively.
Clogged Neck Arteries
If your doctor is ever unsure whether the symptoms you’re experience are due to a heart attack, ask them to check your carotid arteries. Per one study of 225 people with chest pain published in the journal Stroke, damage in the carotid arteries is a sign of severe coronary heart disease, and so getting your neck arteries checked when you experience heart pain could help your doctors detect a problem before it worsens. And if you’re a female (or happen to live with one), then don’t miss How Heart Attack Symptoms Are Different for Women.
When the arteries become clogged and the heart can’t get blood to the rest of the body, the organ will try to compensate by beating faster. For heart attack patients, this tachycardia manifests itself as heart palpitations, uncomfortable heartbeats that make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon.
Of course, not everyone who feels queasy requires medical attention, but nausea is one of the more common symptoms of heart failure. This is because during heart failure, blood supply to the liver and digestive system is limited, and so the digestive tract is unable to function normally. In addition to nausea, some heart disease patients also experience a lack of appetite as they already feel full, even when they haven’t eaten anything.
“You may feel dizzy, faint, or off balance if your heart isn’t pumping enough blood to your brain,” explains the Mayo Clinic. And this symptom isn’t just limited to a single illness: heart conditions ranging from cardiomyopathy to a heart arrhythmia can cause dizziness. Curious about some of the symptoms of other conditions? Check out these 20 Surprising Flu Symptoms You Can’t Afford to Ignore.
Trouble Gaining Weight
When a child is born with a heart valve that is either too narrow or blocked entirely, they are diagnosed with a heart condition called aortic stenosis. Though kids with mild cases of aortic stenosis often have no symptoms, serious cases can result in problems like poor weight gain and problems feeding.
Some people experience indigestion either right before or during a heart attack. However, since many of the people who experience heart attacks are older adults, this symptom often gets chalked up to heartburn or other everyday issues and is almost never associated with the real problem it’s signaling.
Don’t immediately assume that any memory loss you’re experiencing is the result of old age. According to the American Heart Association, heart failure affects how much sodium is in your blood, and this in turn can mess with your mind and cause confusion and impaired thinking. And since our minds and memories are so complex, you might want to check out these 35 Crazy Facts about Your Memory.
One of the many heart diseases to look out for is endocarditis, which affects the inner lining of your heart’s valves and chambers. Many of endocarditis’ most common symptoms are flu-like in nature, and things that could indicate a problem with your heart lining including a fever and fatigue.
Many doctors will look at a patient’s skin when they suspect that they have endocarditis. Why? In some cases of the condition, patients will experience painful skin rashes and lesions, and spotting these usually makes it easier to diagnose the disease.
If you find yourself with a case of the hiccups that won’t subside, then you shouldn’t wait to seek medical attention. “Persistent or intractable hiccups can indicate inflammation around the heart or a pending heart attack,” explained Timothy Pfanner, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. And if your contractions are becoming the bane of your existence, then read up on How to Get Rid of Hiccups.
If you pass out and you’re unsure why, make sure to ask your doctor to check your heart health out. According to one British study published in The Lancet Public Health, many patients who died of a heart attack experienced fainting up to a month before their fatal attack—but since there was no reason to look at these patients’ hearts, their heart attacks went undiagnosed until it was too late.
Experiencing numbness in your legs and/or arms is one of the possible signs of a heart attack. This occurs because when you’re having a heart attack, the blood vessels in your limbs are narrowed and therefore receive less blood flow.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, or NORD, some 60 percent of patients with infective endocarditis have enlarged spleens. Now, an enlarged spleen might not be an obvious symptom for heart trouble, but if for some reason your doctor does spot this, then make sure to ask them to also check out your heart.
NORD notes that in some patients, infective endocarditis also causes hematuria, or bloody urine. Of course, spotting blood in your urine is never a good sign, so even if you aren’t experiencing heart problems you should get checked out when your pee is red.
According to the American Heart Association, one of the signs that you’re experiencing an arrhythmia is anxiety accompanied by shortness of breath. This symptom only occurs when the arrhythmia has had time to develop and worsen, though, so look out for earlier symptoms like heart palpitations to catch the condition before it gets to this stage.
That arm pain that you experience alongside a heart attack is no myth. Heart attacks often cause pain in the arms and between the shoulders—but since people generally attribute this to everyday soreness, they unfortunately won’t know they’re having a heart attack until it’s too late.
Cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscles to get larger and thicken, has several symptoms, but one surprising sign of the disease is bloating. Other signs of cardiomyopathy include fatigue, swollen limbs, and shortness of breath, so if you experience any of these in conjunction with your bloating, then you should definitely get your heart muscle looked at.
Though not everyone experiences overwhelming chest pain when they’re having heart problems, this is easily the most common and obvious symptom of any and all heart problems. If you ever experience unexplained heart pain that doesn’t go away, seek medical attention, as it could be a sign of something serious.
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