Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), refers to disorders of the heart and blood vessels and is taking more than 18.6 million lives every year. It is recognized worldwide as the number one cause of death; more individuals die from CVDs annually than any other cause.
Not all heart diseases manifest the same clinical signs and symptoms. The more we explore the symptoms of heart disease, the more we realize that they can be noticeably different for various heart diseases and groups of patients. If the early symptoms are left untreated, heart diseases may worsen over time, leading to more chronic and medically complicated conditions.
Here are a few signs and symptoms of heart disease you should be especially careful about:
1. Irregular Heartbeat
Irregular heartbeats are common while you are overexcited, depressed, or exercising, but if it happens very often in normal situations, it can be a critical sign of atrial fibrillation. You should seek immediate medical assistance to avoid serious consequences.
2. A Cough That Won’t Quit
Coughing is not a typical sign of heart disease, but if you experience prolonged coughing accompanied by pink or white mucous, pay close attention. This usually happens when your heart is unable to keep up with bodily demands, and blood leaks back into the lungs. It is also a major sign of heart failure.
3. Pain Spreading to the Arms
If you feel an intense pain radiating to the arms and down to the left side of your body, this can be a classic sign of a heart attack. You should immediately call 911 for emergency service rather than driving yourself.
4. Chest Discomfort
Chest discomfort is particularly common among women. Persistent discomfort, along with tightness, pain, and pressure in your chest, can be a clear sign of a blocked artery or a heart attack.
5. Chest Pain Spreading to Your Throat or Jaw
Typical pain in the jaw and throat isn’t heart related, but if your chest is the central point of the pain, and this pain radiates up to your jaw or throat, it is could be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
Breaking out in a cold sweat without any apparent reason, particularly if you aren’t exercising or being active, can also be an early warning sign. It takes more effort from your heart to pump blood into clogged arteries, so your body sweats more to try to keep your body temperature down during the additional effort.
7. Heartburn, Nausea, Indigestion, and Stomach Pain
These signs and symptoms are common and generally irrelevant to cardiovascular diseases, but if you know that you you are at risk for cardiac disorders and you notice pain in your stomach, severe heartburn, nausea, and indigestion, you should talk with your physician.
Not all people with coronary artery disease have chest pain as a symptom, women are more likely to report experiencing heartburn, nausea, indigestion, and stomach pain. Some individuals may even vomit.
Other signs and symptoms of heart disease and cardiovascular diseases may include shortness of breath, chest pressure, dizziness, feeling exhausted, unusually loud snoring, swelling in feet, ankles, and legs. Also, some individuals may have signs and symptoms of exercise intolerance where they cannot perform activities that they normally once could.
Risk Factors for Developing Heart Disease
- Do you smoke?
- Is your blood pressure 140/90 mmHg or higher; OR, have you been told by your doctor that your blood pressure is too high?
- Has your doctor told you that your LDL “bad” cholesterol is too high; that your total cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or higher; OR, that your HDL “good” cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL?
- Has your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55; OR, has your mother or sister had one before age 65?
- Do you have diabetes OR a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dL or higher; OR, do you need medicine to control your blood sugar?
- For women: Are you over 55 years old?
- For men: Are you over 45 years old?
- Do you have a Body Mass Index score of 25 or more?
- Do you get less than a total of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days?
- Has a doctor told you that you have angina (chest pains); OR, have you had a heart attack?
Heart Disease Risk Factor Calculators
Your Guide to a Healthy Heart
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information on the prevention and treatment of heart disease and offers publications on heart health and heart disease.
Take charge of your heart health; this booklet Your Guide to a Healthy Heart, designed for both women and men, is an action plan for heart health. It provides up-to-date information and practical tips about establishing and maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle, including understanding the risk factors for heart disease, determining your risk, and establishing a plan for heart health.