Every year in the United States, more than 700,000 people suffer a heart attack, and almost 400,000 people die of heart disease.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of these heart attacks could be prevented through lifestyle changes and medical measures. Yet too often, this opportunity is missed because we tend to think of heart attacks as spontaneous events.
While some heart attack sufferers don’t show any symptoms, those people do have underlying heart disease. More often, though, when I talk to patients who have suffered a heart attack, they admit that they noticed changes in their health months beforehand. Had they sought medical help, their heart attacks could have been avoided.
You will find below 7 Warning Signs of Heart Trouble, and I’ll tell you about the early symptoms to look for, so you don’t become one of the victims.
- Chest Pain – When most people think of chest pain associated with heart disease, they imagine the dramatic type of incident depicted in movies. This is where the term “Hollywood heart attack” comes from.
But there are different types of chest pain that can be associated with heart problems. The most common one is angina, which is discomfort or pressure, usually in the chest, caused by a temporarily inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle.
This discomfort may also be felt in the neck, jaw, and arms.
Another condition, called atypical angina, does not involve chest discomfort, but may include shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, back or neck pain, or burning indigestion.
These are symptoms that women are more likely to feel even during a heart attack.
- Indigestion or Heartburn – Chest pain can be a master of disguise. I’ve often had patients tell me that in the weeks that led up to their heart attacks, they were frequently troubled by heartburn. But afterwards, the problem mysteriously disappeared. In fact, they weren’t suffering heartburn at all; they were experiencing symptoms of coronary artery disease. Here’s how you can tell the difference between digestive issues and a possible heart problem.
These are the characteristics of heartburn:
- Burning sensation starting in the upper abdomen and moving up into the chest
- Usually occurs after eating or while lying down or bending over
- May awaken you from sleep, especially if you have eaten within two hours of going to bed
- Usually relieved by antacids
- May be accompanied by a sour taste in your mouth — especially when you’re lying down
- May be accompanied by a small amount of stomach contents rising up into the back of your throat (regurgitation)
Other digestive issues can also mimic the symptoms of heart disease, particularly muscle spasms in the esophagus or pain from gallbladder disease. With gallbladder disease, nausea and an intense, steady ache in the upper middle or upper right abdomen can occur – especially after a fatty meal. And the pain may shift to your shoulders, neck, or arms. Digestive issues usually occur after eating, whereas symptoms of heart disease or heart failure might occur after exercise or exertion. In the case of heart failure, a person may also experience a lack of appetite or a feeling of being full. When nausea and digestive problems occur with heart failure it is because the heart is too weak to pump blood strongly enough to the organs that comprise the digestive system.
- Fatigue – How do you distinguish fatigue that is normal from the type that is caused by heart disease? I tell my patients, if you are feeling fatigue that doesn’t go away after a few days of rest, you should check with your doctor. This type of fatigue can vary, especially at the beginning. You may feel tired all the time, or you may suddenly tire when performing everyday activities that used to seem fairly effortless, like shopping, climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or walking.
- Shortness of Breath Unfortunately, people have different definitions of what it means to be short of breath. And in fact, the condition manifests differently in different people. However, in general it involves:
- Difficult breathing
- Uncomfortable breathing
- Feeling like you are not getting enough air
When shortness of breath occurs due to coronary artery disease, it usually comes about during a period of exertion. With heart disease, shortness of breath happens because of diminished blood flow to the heart and therefore insufficient blood supply in the lungs. In the case of heart failure, it may occur at rest, or even while sleeping. The person may experience difficulty breathing while lying flat and feel they need to prop their head up on a pillow and they also may awaken tired or feeling anxious or restless. In heart failure, blood actually “backs up” in the pulmonary veins (the vessels that return blood from the lungs to the heart) because the heart can’t keep up.
This causes fluid to back up into the lungs, which can lead to a persistent cough or wheezing.
- Heart Palpitations – Heart palpitations are sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating in the chest. They can be described as a bump, pound, jump, flutter, or a racing heartbeat. All of us have experienced heart palpitations at one time or another, and they are often harmless. But heart palpitations can also warn of coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure because the heart pumps harder to compensate for decreased blood flow or reduced cardiac strength.
- Body Swelling – If swelling occurs in your legs, feet, ankles, or abdomen — a condition known as edema — it can be a sign of congestive heart failure. When the heart weakens and pumps blood less effectively, fluid can slowly build up, creating edema, often in the legs. If fluid buildup occurs rapidly, fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) can develop. If there is heart failure of the right side of the heart, edema can develop in the abdomen as well. To assess swelling in the legs, press down on the skin over the lower leg bone. Edema is present if the pressure leaves a dent in the skin. (This is known as “pitting edema.”) Sudden weight gain for no apparent reason can also indicate congestive heart failure.
- Erectile Dysfunction – Erectile dysfunction (ED) is an overlooked potential indication of heart disease, and one that could manifest years before other symptoms. When achieving an erection is difficult or impossible, it can be a sign of clogged arteries in the pelvis. This can occur well before other symptoms of coronary heart disease occurs. ED can also be a harbinger of other cardiovascular issues that need to be addressed. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis may cause it as well. So if you suddenly develop ED, don’t assume the cause is necessarily aging or a psychological issue. See your doctor.
As you can see, taking care of your heart means more than just eating healthy, exercising daily, and avoiding stress.
You also need to become a student of your body and be attuned to any warning signals it is trying to send you.
Recognizing potential heart problems will give you the time you need to consult your doctor, head them off, and continue on your way to beating heart disease.