Your heart is an indispensable organ. It beats around 100,000 times per day, which averages out to around three billion heartbeats in your lifetime. A little larger than your fist, your heart is a muscle that pumps blood through your circulatory system. Because your heart is so important for your good health, it’s important to be aware of symptoms of heart disease. Here are 15 symptoms of heart disease you should never ignore.
What is heart disease?
The term heart disease is an inclusive term for several conditions that affect your heart’s function and structure. Heart disease includes blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease, heart rhythm issues like arrhythmias, and congenital heart defects. Heart disease is often referred to as cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes the narrowing or blocked blood vessels so your body can’t get enough oxygen. Blockages cause life-threatening problems like the following:
- Heart attack
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Your heart has two separate pumping systems or chambers. There are a right side chamber and a left side chamber of your heart. The right side of the heart gets blood from your veins and pumps it into your lungs. In the lungs, this blood gets oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. The left side of your heart gets blood from your lungs. It then pumps the blood to your arteries and the other parts of your body.
15 symptoms of heart disease (or cardiovascular disease)
1 – Chest pains or twinges
This is a common symptom of heart disease. The pain is due to a blocked artery. You may feel a tightness or some pressure in or on your chest. Everyone describes it a bit differently. Some people say it feels like a big animal is sitting on your chest. Other people say they have a burning feeling in their chest. It can last a few minutes. It can happen when you’re active or resting. Call 911 if the symptoms don’t go away after a few minutes or if they get worse. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room.
2 – High blood pressure or hypertension
Hypertension is when your blood is too forcefully hitting your artery walls. Your doctor measures this force by taking your blood pressure. There are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure. Check out the chart below to see the different blood pressure ranges from the American Heart Association.
If you don’t lower your blood pressure, you can have a stroke or heart attack. Exercise, eating less salt, and eating a healthy diet can help lower your blood pressure. If none of these things work, your doctor will give you medication to control your blood pressure.
3 – Stomach ache along with indigestion
During a heart attack, some people experience indigestion, nausea, or stomach ache. Women tend to have this symptom during a heart attack more than men. If you have stomach pain and any other heart attack symptoms, call 911 right away since you could be having a heart attack.
4 – Arm pain
Pain radiating down your left arm a classic heart attack symptom. The pain usually moves from your chest outward. Some people’s main symptom of a heart attack is only arm pain, so never ignore this symptom.
5 – Dizziness
If you have a combination of dizziness and chest discomfort, you may be having a heart attack. The dizziness is from your blood pressure dropping quickly because your heart isn’t pumping correctly. Call 911 right away. Never drive yourself to the emergency room.
6 – Jaw or throat pain
This is an unusual symptom of heart disease. But if you have jaw or throat pain and chest pain, it could indicate you have a heart attack. You should call 911 right away if you have this symptom, along with other heart attack symptoms.
7 – Sudden fatigue or extreme tiredness
This is a subtle symptom that is easy to ignore. If you notice that you’ve been exhausted over the past few months, you should make an appointment to discuss this with your doctor. Little changes are significant, so don’t ignore them. It could be a sign of early heart disease.
8 – Snoring
If you snore loudly, almost sounding as if you’re choking or gasping, it could be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea means you stop breathing while you’re sleeping. This puts stress on your heart and may cause heart disease. Make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss these symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe you a CPAP machine, which can help you breathe easier at night.
9 – Cold sweats
If you find yourself breaking out in a cold sweat and you’re not exercising or doing anything strenuous, this could be a sign of a heart attack. Usually, this symptom will show up with other heart attack symptoms. Don’t hesitate to call 911. Better safe than sorry.
10 – A long-lasting cough
It may surprise you to hear that having a cough that has lasted for many months could be a sign of heart disease. If you are coughing up a pinkish or white-colored mucus, this is a sign of heart failure. This happens because your heart can’t keep up pumping blood throughout your body, so blood leaks back into your lungs. Make an appointment with your doctor to have your lungs and heart checked.
Edema is a red flag for heart disease. If you have swollen legs, ankles, or fingers, your heart isn’t pumping properly, so that your blood is getting backed up in your veins resulting in bloating. Heart disease makes it harder for your kidneys to remove water and sodium from your body. This is another reason for edema.
12 – Irregular heartbeat
Everyone’s heart races once in a while, usually when you’re excited or nervous, but if it happens quite often, it could be a sign of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about what it feels like. Some people say it’s like drinking too much caffeine, and your heart beats fast. It could be a sign of atrial fibrillation, which needs to be treated medically.
13 – Migraines
Studies show that heart attacks are more common during a migraine, especially if you get migraines with auras. If you have heart disease in your family, you may not want to take migraine meds called triptans since they narrow your blood vessels. Talk to your doctor about controlling your migraines and your chances of having a heart attack during one.
14 – Being a parent
Okay, this is not as much a symptom as a lifestyle factor that contributes to heart disease. But parents have a great chance of having heart disease, and the chances go up for each child. It’s true of both men and women. For women, if you have your first period before 12 years old and your periods stopped before you turned 46, then you have a greater chance of having a stroke. Also, women who have had a miscarriage or a hysterectomy are at greater risk for heart disease.
15 – Being short
It doesn’t seem fair, but being short puts you at greater risk for heart disease. Every 2.5 inches less than the average height you are, it raises your heart disease chances by almost 10%. The average height for women in the United States is 5 foot 4 inches. The average height for men is 5 foot 9 inches. Short people have a greater risk of heart disease because shorter people typically have higher cholesterol levels.
How do you keep your heart healthy?
Heart health means eating foods that are low in saturated and trans fats. Eat a diet high in vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains. Limit your amount of sugar and salt. Eat lean meats and add fish to your diet at least twice a week. Other good heart-healthy choices include the following habits:
- Exercise: Because your heart is a muscle, it needs a lot of exercise on your part to stay strong. Working out is a great way to avoid heart disease.
- Stop smoking: This goes without saying. Smoking is hard on your heart and your lungs.
- Lose weight: Keep your weight done to lower your cholesterol levels and prevent blockages.
- Don’t overeat: Overeating leads to weight gain. Follow the American Heart Association healthy nutrition guidelines.
- Limit your stress: Stress affects your heart. Of course, you can’t limit all stress, but find ways to relieve your stress like exercising.
- Take vitamin D: Vitamin D is a great heart-healthy vitamin to include in your diet.
You can keep your heart healthy and strong by eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and having an annual physical check-up. But even with these preventative heart measures, your heart may get diseased. If you have several of these symptoms of heart disease, don’t hesitate to call 911. You could be having a heart attack. Be sure to have an annual check-up every year so your doctor will check your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure levels. If they are high, your doctor may have you do a stress test to see how your heart functions.
Talk to your doctor if you have a long-lasting cough or feel like your heart is beating irregularly. These could be early symptoms of heart disease. Heart health is important for you to be at your best. It’s never too late to take care of your heart.