30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You
Picking up on these signals can help you identify a heart issue before it's too late.
It goes without saying that your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. The fist-sized muscle never gets a break, pumping blood through your veins day in and day out to, well, keep you alive and running. Unfortunately, there are so many things that can go wrong with this vital organ. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in every four deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to some form of heart disease. Fortunately, if you pay attention to your body—and visit your doctor regularly—you'll be able to get ahead of any issues. From toe pain to exhaustion, these are the warning signs your heart could be in trouble. And for things to avoid so you can keep your ticker in top form, check out the 40 Habits That Increase Your Chances of a Heart Attack After 40.
Open sores on your feet
Having open sores or ulcers on your feet can be incredibly painful, and they need to be checked by your doctor ASAP—as they could be a sign of a heart condition called aortoiliac occlusive disease, which is the blockage of the aorta, your body's main blood vessel.
According to vascular specialists at NYU Langone Health, this condition can lead to ischemia, a decrease in the supply of blood and oxygen to tissues. "Ischemia may cause tissues in the foot to break down, producing open sores, or ulcers," the doctors say. "It may also lead to tissue death, or gangrene, which can result in limb loss without proper treatment." And for more symptoms to be aware of, here are 23 Unexpected Signs Your Heart Is Unhealthy.
Cramping in your legs
Muscle cramps happen from time to time—especially during those uphill weekend hikes you love to take. But if you experience pain or cramping in your thighs, buttocks, or calves often while simply taking a stroll, you might want to take note. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), this can be another sign of aortoiliac occlusive disease.
Coughing up colored mucus
Having a cough that won't seem to go away and produces mucus that is pink or white in color could be due to fluid building up in your lungs—a common warning sign of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Even if it just seems like a bad cold, it's a good idea to bring it up to your doctor to ensure it's not the symptom of a bigger problem.
Pain in your toes
Unless you stubbed your toe or your shoes are too tight, there aren't too many things you can blame toe pain on. So, if you often experience aches in your toes for no apparent reason and notice coldness or numbness in your legs while resting, this could also be yet another sign of aortoiliac occlusive disease, the UPMC says. And for other often overlooked signs of potential health problems, check out 23 Subtle Signs of Serious Health Issues.
It might seem like that jaw pain isn't too serious, but it's also a common heart attack symptom that's rarely talked about.
"Sometimes the manifestation of a heart attack or some cardiac event can be felt in the jaws, the teeth, and the neck. It's not just the left side; it can happen on the right side, too, especially for women," according to Steven D. Bender, DDS, director of the Center for Facial Pain and Sleep Medicine at Texas A&M's College of Dentistry. "The pain is a sign. It's an indicator that something is happening right then, right at that moment. It may come and go depending on the severity."
Hair loss on your legs
Having hairless legs might seem like a convenience for some people, but it could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease, a circulatory condition in which plaque builds up in your arteries and reduces blood flow to the limbs. According to South Carolina's McLeod Health, one of the symptoms is experiencing hair loss on the legs, resulting in smooth, shiny skin that's cool to the touch.
Heaviness in your legs
When you have peripheral artery disease, a lack of blood flow in your legs can make them feel heavy when you're walking. It can also cause pain, cramping, numbness, or weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. And for more ways your body might be indicating a dangerous heart condition, check out These Are the Heart Attack Warning Signs Hiding in Plain Sight.
Frequent urination at night
If you find that you have to get up to go to the bathroom at night more than you usually do, that increased urge to urinate could be a symptom of heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Check in with your doctor to make sure you're healthy and that your heart is in top working order.
Tightness in your throat
If you're experiencing so much tightness in your throat that it's giving you a persistent sensation that you are choking, it could be a sign of a heart attack, according to the British Heart Foundation.
Rapid weight gain
While there are many symptoms of heart failure, rapid weight gain is one that's lesser known. It's a sign that your body is retaining fluid due to your heart not pumping properly. According to Kaiser Permanente, this rapid weight gain could look like two to three pounds in 24 hours or five pounds in a week.
Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
Swelling usually signals an injury to an area—like in the case of a sprained ankle—but that buildup of excess fluid in your tissues could also be a sign of heart failure. According to the AHA, this occurs when blood gets backed up while trying to return to the heart, causing your tissues to swell.
Suddenly breaking into a cold sweat
If you ever suddenly break into a sweat and experience cold, clammy skin, you may be having a heart attack. The Mayo Clinic says it's one of the typical symptoms and may or may not be accompanied by chest discomfort or pain. If you're not sure why you're sweating, don't wait to figure it out—get help immediately. It could be your body trying to tell you something isn't right.
Sudden feelings of nausea
Suddenly feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting might not be because of something bad you ate—it could be due to a heart attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, nausea is one of the prime symptoms, along with dizziness. For women, these symptoms can come about during a heart attack even without chest pain.
There are many different things that can cause erectile dysfunction, but one that is less well-known is heart disease. Extra blood is required during an erection, according to the Harvard Medical School, but if you have clogged arteries, that blood flow is interrupted. So if you're having any problems in the bedroom, talk to your doctor to ensure it's not something more serious.
While changes in your heartbeat can occur due to anxiety, caffeine, or dehydration, anything you notice while you're resting is likely a sign there's a problem, according to the Harvard Medical School. So if your heart starts beating irregularly or super quickly while you're watching your favorite show or reading a book, bring it up to your doctor.
A fluttering feeling in your chest
If you specifically feel a fluttering or "thumping" feeling in your chest, you could be experiencing the most common symptom of atrial fibrillation (AFib). This is a particular type of irregular heartbeat that occurs when the abnormal firing of electrical impulses causes the atria to quiver, according to the AHA. If you're experiencing this sensation, meet with your doctor immediately—especially since those who have AFib also have an increased risk of strokes.
Arm or shoulder pain
While there are many things that could be behind your pain, if it continuously crops up when you exert yourself and feels better with rest, it could mean heart disease is brewing.
But if you suddenly experience a sharp pain in your arm, back, or shoulder—along with pressure, fullness, or a squeezing feeling in your chest—that could very well be a heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Feeling tired easily when exercising
If you've always felt exhausted during exercise or physical activity—no matter how in shape you might be—it could be due to a congenital heart defect that just hasn't been diagnosed. While serious ones are detected at birth, less severe issues sometimes aren't discovered until adulthood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sometimes tiredness can be a sign of so much more than a busy schedule and long days at the office. If you're feeling fatigued every day—and that tired feeling never seems to go away—it could be a sign of heart failure or coronary artery disease, according to the Harvard Medical School.
Confusion or forgetfulness
If you've felt off lately—experiencing memory loss, confusion, or impaired thinking—it could be a sign of heart failure. According to the AHA, this can occur when there are changing levels of certain chemical elements in your blood. A change in your sodium levels, for instance, can cause feelings of confusion.
If you experience abdominal pain when exercising that quickly disappears as soon as you rest, then your heart might be trying to signal that you are developing heart disease, according to the Harvard Medical School.
Chest discomfort is something people often brush off, thinking it's probably just punishment for eating a greasy meal. However, if that discomfort, squeezing, fullness, or even mild pain occurs in the center of your chest and lasts longer than a few minutes—or goes away and returns again—it could be a warning sign that a heart attack is imminent, according to the AHA.
If you've ever woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air, you probably have sleep apnea—a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start again. Because the problem prevents you from getting quality sleep, it's often associated with stroke, heart failure, and high blood pressure, according to the AHA.
Luckily, there are ways to address the issue before it leads to serious health issues. To reduce apnea episodes, avoid sleeping on your back, skip alcohol—which can relax your throat muscles before bed—and quit smoking if you're a smoker.
Panic attack symptoms
Panic attacks and heart attacks can often be hard to differentiate—sharing similar symptoms, like shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, sweating, a pounding heartbeat, dizziness, and physical weakness, according to the UPMC. That's why it's important to address the matter quickly by getting help, since a diagnosis from a medical professional is the only way to know for sure which is which.
Having a severe headache
If you have a severe headache that won't seem to go away, don't just take some medicine and forget about it. Take it as a sign that something might be wrong. According to the Mayo Clinic, that head pain could be due to a stroke or a blood clot in your heart—especially if the pain is paired with vomiting and dizziness. Since damage can be done quickly, don't wait to get help.
If you commonly experience shortness of breath during activity, while you're at rest, or while you're sleeping, it could be due to heart disease. According to the AHA, the problem occurs when blood gets backed up in your veins due to your heart not being able to produce a proper flow, which leaks fluid into the lungs and causes breathing issues.
Dizziness or fainting
While fainting could be due to everything from standing up too quickly to the medications you're taking, it can also signal a heart problem. According to the Harvard Medical School, the drop in your blood pressure could be due to a rupture of the aorta. No matter the reason, make sure you head to the doctor to see what's wrong.
A slow heart rate
Heart arrhythmias have to do with changes in your heartbeat. And while many people are on the lookout for a fluttering or racing heart, bradycardia—or a slow heart rate—can also be a sign that something is amiss. If your heart is beating fewer than 60 times a minute, check in with your doctor. While it's not always a problem, it could be prohibiting your heart from supplying your body with enough oxygen, leading to dizziness, chest pains, and other issues, the Mayo Clinic says.
Intense back pain
Sometimes heart problems are signaled in unexpected areas of your body, and one of them is your back. If you have pain in your lower or upper back that spreads from the chest, take it as your cue to call for help. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it could be a subtle sign of a heart attack in women. And for more ways to watch your ticker, check out the 23 Unexpected Signs You're at Risk for Heart Disease.