30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You
These signals will keep you ahead of any problems.
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 24/7 in order to help you feel your best every day. But 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.
You have 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—especially if they're not healing on their own. They could be a sign of a specific heart condition called aortoiliac occlusive disease, which is the blockage of the aorta, your body's main blood vessel.
NYU Langone Health says this condition could 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," according to NYU. "It may also lead to tissue death, or gangrene, which can result in limb loss without proper treatment."
Your butt or thighs cramp up when you walk.
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 a sign of aortoiliac occlusive disease, as well.
You experience pain in your toes while resting.
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 a sign of aortoiliac occlusive disease, according to the UPMC.
You have colored mucus when you cough.
Having a cough that won't seem to go away and produces a white or pink blood-tinged mucus 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.
You're experiencing jaw pain.
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," says Dr. 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."
You don't have any hair 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.
Your legs feel heavy when you walk.
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.
You get up multiple times during the night to pee.
If you can't figure out why you have to pee so much during the night, 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 tip-top shape.
You're experiencing a choking feeling.
If you're experiencing so much tightness in your throat that it's giving you a choking feeling, it could be due to a heart problem. If the feeling persists, it could be a sign of a heart attack, according to the British Heart Foundation.
You're experiencing 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.
Your feet, ankles, and legs are swollen.
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.
You suddenly break into a cold sweat for no apparent reason.
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 go hand-in-hand with 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.
You're suddenly feeling super nauseous.
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.
You're experiencing erectile dysfunction.
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 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.
There's a change in your heartbeat.
If you notice a heart palpitation—where you feel like your heart is beating super fast or pounding—it could be a sign of a heart problem. 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.
You feel a fluttering or "thumping" 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 are at an increased risk for stroke.
Your arm, shoulder, or back hurts.
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.
You get tired easily during exercise or activities.
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 hasn't yet been diagnosed. While serious ones are detected at birth, less severe issues sometimes aren't discovered until adulthood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You're tired all the time.
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.
You're experiencing confusion or impaired thinking.
If you've felt off lately—experiencing memory loss, confusion, and 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.
You have pain in your abdomen.
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're developing heart disease, according to the Harvard Medical School.
You're experiencing chest discomfort.
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 pain (even if it's mild) 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. Don't wait around to see if the pain fades. Immediately call for help.
You experience sleep apnea.
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. According to the AHA, because the problem prevents you from getting quality sleep, it's often associated with stroke, heart failure, and high blood pressure.
You snore all the time.
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.
You feel like you're having a panic attack.
Panic attacks and heart attacks can be hard to differentiate: They both involve discomfort and fear and 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.
You have a really bad 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.
You have difficulty breathing, even when lying down.
If you commonly experience shortness of breath during activity, while you're at rest, while you're sleeping, and even while you're lying flat, 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 keep up with a proper flow, leaking fluid into the lungs and causing breathing issues.
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 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. It could save your life.
Your heart is beating very slowly.
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 involves a heart rate that's slower than normal. 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, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your back is killing you.
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 heart health statistics, check out the These 50 American Cities Have the Highest Rates of Coronary Heart Disease.
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