How is your heart doing? If something were wrong, how would you know?
Heart problems do not always come with clear warnings. Some symptoms concerning matters of the heart do not even happen in the chest, which is especially true if you are advancing in age, overweight, have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
The more risk factors you have, the more you should be concerned about health-related matters of the heart. Therefore, if you have any underlying health conditions, particularly at the age of 60 or older, keep an eye on the following signs of a heart problem.
Chest Pain or Discomfort
An agitated, distressed chest is the most common sign of heart danger. If you have a blocked artery or are having a heart attack, the symptoms you encounter may include pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest.
“Everyone has a different word for that feeling,” says Charles Chambers, MD, the director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute. He adds that “some people say it’s like an elephant is sitting on them. Other people say it’s like a pinching or burning sensation.” The feeling typically lasts longer than a few minutes. It may happen regardless if you are resting or doing something physical.
However, you can still have heart problems and even suffer a heart attack without chest pains. Hence, according to the Cardiovascular Institute of the South, starting at age 20, it is crucial to schedule regular heart health screenings.
Feeling Dizzy or Lightheaded
A few factors, including standing too fast and eating insufficient calories, can cause you to feel faint or lose your balance for a moment. However, if you suddenly feel unsteady and simultaneously experience chest pains or shortness of breath, dial 9-1-1 right away. Your blood pressure could have dropped because your heart is unable to pump the way it should.
Pain in the Arm
An overlooked symptom of heart problems is pain that spreads down the left side of the body. Chambers explains that “it almost always starts from the chest and moves outward. I have had some patients who have mainly arm pain that turned out to be heart attacks.”
Pain in the Throat or Jaw
In most cases, throat or jaw pain is not a sign of heart problems, but rather a result of the common flu or a sinus infection. But if you experience pain or pressure in your chest that radiates up into your throat or jaw, it could be signaling a heart attack. Seek immediate medical assistance to make sure everything is alright.
Always Feeling Tired
If you find yourself feeling fatigued or exhausted after doing something you had no problem doing in the past, such as carrying groceries from the car or climbing up the stairs, Bufalino recommends meeting with a doctor as soon as possible. “These types of significant changes are more important to us than every little ache and pain you might be feeling,” he says.
Unexplainable weakness and constant exhaustion can be telltale signs of heart disease, especially among women.
An article from the National Sleep Foundation mentioned that “snoring is a common occurrence, and it is perfectly normal for most people.” But when the noises you make in your sleep sound like you are choking, gasping, or snorting, a disorder called sleep apnea may be present. This serious sleep disorder is associated with high blood pressure. Furthermore, the National Sleep Foundation warns that sleep apnea is linked with heart arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
Experiencing cold sweats (diaphoresis) for unknown reasons could signal a heart attack. If this happens alongside any of the symptoms above, call 911 to get to a hospital right away. Do not attempt to drive yourself.
A Cough That Does Not Go Away
In most scenarios, coughing is harmless and treatable. But if you have cardiovascular disease or know you are at risk, pay close attention to the possibility of coughing as a sign of heart trouble. If you have a persistent cough accompanied by a pink or white mucus, it could be a sign of heart failure. Heart failure arises when the heart can no longer keep up with the body’s demands, causing blood to flow back into the lungs.
Swollen Body Parts
If your legs, ankles, and feet are swollen, it could be signaling that your heart is not pumping blood as effectively as it should. When your heart fails to pump fast enough, blood accumulates in your veins, leading to bloating.
It is normal for your heart to race when you feel nervous, excited, or as a response to physical activities. But if your heart is beating out of time for more than a few seconds, or if it happens too often, consult your doctor. In most cases, an irregular heartbeat is a byproduct of excessive caffeine consumption or sleep deprivation. In rare but possible cases, it could be a symptom of atrial fibrillation, which requires immediate treatment since it raises the risk of stroke and heart disease. Thus, ask your doctor to check it out.
How to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Making changes to your lifestyle and food choices can improve or even reverse congestive heart issues. To ensure a happy and healthy heart, try the following:
- Quit smoking or using tobacco
- Limit or stop your consumption of alcohol
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Stay active and become stronger
- Manage your stress with mind-body practices such as yoga and meditation
- Get enough restful sleep at night
- Manage and seek treatment for sleep apnea
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing almost 610,000 people each year. What’s more, about 1 in 10 cancer patients do not die from cancer, but from heart and blood vessel problems instead. As American Heart Month comes to a close, continue to take excellent care of your heart to avoid these adverse consequences. After all, it works 24/7 to keep you alive and kicking.