According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Stats show that in 2019, over 659,000 people died of a heart-related event — that's more than deaths caused by accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes combined that year.
If something was wrong with your heart, would you know? Paying close attention to your heart health is critical when it comes to ensuring your overall health and well-being.
So what are the signs something might be going on in your heart? What symptoms should raise a red flag? When should you seek treatment? We put together this guide to help you understand what to look for when keeping your heart healthy.
What is heart disease?
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, can refer to several types of heart conditions. The four main heart conditions are:
Risk factors that may cause heart disease or heart issues
Some other risk factors that can contribute to heart disease include:
Signs of an unhealthy heart
Some people experience little to no symptoms of heart disease. That's why regular screenings are essential, especially if you have any underlying risk factors.
If you experience any of the below signs, you should seek medical attention. No matter how mild or insignificant they seem, they could be signs of future cardiac trouble.
Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath occurs when you aren't getting enough oxygen, causing you to breathe deeper, heavier, and quicker. It can happen due to anxiety, anemia, exercise, altitude, or allergic reactions. However, shortness of breath can also indicate an underlying pulmonary (lungs) or cardiac (heart) issue.
Usually, shortness of breath that comes on quickly can be due to a lung problem. Other times, shortness of breath develops gradually. This might be a symptom of aortic valve disease, arrhythmia, or heart failure.
Whether sudden or gradual, shortness of breath shouldn't be ignored.
Chest pain is one of the most common signs of an unhealthy heart. It can feel like pressure, pinching, burning, or squeezing in the chest.
The American Heart Association reports around 170,000 silent heart attacks each year. So even if you experience minimal chest discomfort, you should still be checked out by your doctor.
Just because this isn't felt in the chest doesn't mean it's not heart-related. In fact, left arm or shoulder pain is one of the signs of a heart attack.
Our nerves that branch from the heart and the arm send signals to the same brain cells. The brain cannot differentiate the source of the pain, known as referred pain. As a result, many people mistake heart trouble for pain in the left arm or shoulder.
You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience pain or pressure in the left arm or shoulder, especially if other signs of heart distress accompany it.
Puffy feet and legs
Swollen feet and legs, known as edema, can signify many health issues, including heart failure. If the heart pumps inefficiently, gravity pools the blood closer to the lower extremities, causing puffiness.
If you notice your shoes, socks, or pants start to feel tight at the end of the day, you should notify your doctor. Due to a heart condition, edema can turn into a blood clot leading to a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Decrease in stamina
Physical activity is one way to keep your heart healthy. However, even those with active lifestyles can still develop heart disease.
If you are physically active and notice a shift in your body's tolerance to exercise, this might be an early warning sign of heart failure. Some changes that are red flags and should be addressed by your doctor as soon as possible:
Reductions in strength and endurance when working out
Shortness of breath
Sexual function issues
Men aren't the only ones, though. The female sex drive can also decline due to improper blood flow to the genital area due to an unhealthy heart.
Feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting can indicate a restriction of oxygen flow to the brain, leading to heart attacks and strokes. A drop in blood pressure can also cause dizziness and fainting.
Dizziness can also be caused by other conditions such as; certain medications, panic or anxiety attacks, hyperventilation, prolonged standing, and excessive fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhea. If you are experiencing dizziness or feeling faint, you should see a doctor to rule out underlying heart issues.
Sleep issues and sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a disorder in which your breathing repeatedly starts and stops during sleep. While snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, it's important to know that not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone with sleep apnea snores.
One type of sleep apnea, Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is directly linked to obesity, a leading factor in heart disease. OSA occurs when the body's weight on the upper chest and neck forces airflow to be blocked, causing abnormal sleeping patterns. Those with OSA have an increased risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke, and irregular heartbeats, such as AFib.
People with sleep apnea should have their heart health checked regularly by their healthcare professional.
Many illnesses and diseases can cause extreme tiredness. Heart failure causes the body to become deprived of oxygen, leading to fatigue.
If you notice you have unusual difficulty in performing daily tasks, whether sudden or gradual, you should talk to your doctor right away.
For some, lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, and medications like Sotalol HCL, can make a huge difference in improving your heart's health. For others, surgery is needed to repair damage to their heart and its surrounding areas. Speak to your doctor about treatment options that may work for you and your condition.
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