Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and in the US. The good news is that an estimated 80% of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, is preventable. In addition to taking preventative measures, it’s crucial that we pay attention to our body and notice the signs of heart disease early.
By detecting signs of heart disease early, you can improve outcomes and protect your heart from further damage. Let’s dive in and explore some of the most common signs of heart disease.
Heart Disease Overview
Heart disease is an umbrella term that refers to a number of different heart problems. But all of these conditions indicate that the circulatory system isn’t effectively delivering oxygenated blood throughout the body.
Heart disease includes the following conditions:
- Coronary artery disease: This condition affects major blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. Usually, plaque buildup clogs the arteries and reduces blood flow to the heart. It also increases the risk for a blood clot.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can cause the arteries to become stiff and thick. These changes make it harder for blood to circulate efficiently.
- Irregular heart beat (or arrhythmias): Electrical signals from the brain tell the heart when to beat. When these signals aren't coordinated, the heart could beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
- Congenital heart defects: Some babies are born with abnormalities in the structure of the heart.
- Disease of heart muscle (or cardiomyopathy): Cardiomyopathy makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.
- Heart valve disease: This disease causes one or more valves in the heart to stop functioning properly, impacting blood flow.
Common Signs of Heart Disease
Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of heart disease. This type of pain could feel like tightness or pressure in the chest, but it could also be a sharp, burning sensation. Chest pain usually occurs because the heart itself isn’t getting enough oxygen. And it’s certainly not something to be ignored.
If you have chest pain and feel really unwell, call 9-1-1 immediately. This could be a heart attack. If you experience chest pain when doing physical activity and it subsides when you’re done, then you should still talk with your doctor; however, you do not need to seek immediate medical attention.
Shortness of Breath
Feeling out of breath is another sign of heart disease. It might seem strange that a heart problem would affect your lungs, but it makes a lot of sense when you understand how the cardiovascular system works.
Remember that blood flows through the lungs to refill its supply of oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. If the heart can’t pump effectively, then blood can back up in the veins that connect the lungs to the heart. The pressure of the backed-up blood causes fluid to leak into the lungs, which makes it harder for the lungs to perform effectively.
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In addition to shortness of breath, heart disease can also cause swelling, typically in the extremities. If the heart isn’t able to pump effectively, circulation can slow and blood can back up in the veins furthest from the heart — like the lower legs. As the pressure builds, fluid leaks into surrounding tissues, resulting in swelling. Some heart conditions can also cause swelling in other areas of the body, like hands, belly, or around the eyes.
Swelling can also be caused by a number of other factors, including sitting down for a long time and spending too much time outside on a hot day. So, you don’t need to rush to the hospital if you notice some swelling. However, if swelling comes on suddenly, is combined with other signs, gets worse, you should see your doctor.
Feeling tired after doing yard work or getting a poor night’s sleep is one thing. But feeling tired all the time could be a sign that you have heart disease. Fatigue can set in when your heart doesn’t pump effectively. The rest of the body has to work extra hard to keep functioning properly, using up your supply of energy.
If you wake up feeling exhausted or get winded doing very simple tasks, you should speak with your doctor to see if a heart condition is the cause.
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If you feel dizzy for no good reason, then heart disease may be to blame. Dizziness can make you feel off balance, lightheaded, or like the room is spinning. It is a known symptom of an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation. Dizzy spells can happen when the brain doesn’t get enough blood due to irregular pumping or weak pumping.
But like many of these other symptoms, dizziness can be caused by something else entirely. Maybe you’re taking a new medication, experiencing anxiety, or have another condition. If dizziness is accompanied by other symptoms listed here, be sure to speak with your doctor about the possibility of heart disease.
Changes in Heart Rate
The heart should have a regular and consistent beat. This beat naturally gets faster when we work out or exert physical energy, and it gets slower when we are at rest. However, if you notice abnormal changes in your heart rate, it could be heart disease.
Your heart might start racing for no reason or it might take longer to return to rest after exercise. You might notice that your heart skips a beat every now and then. These signs should be taken seriously and could point to a heart problem. Talk with your doctor, and they may run a series of tests to determine the underlying cause.
Dangers of Heart Disease
Heart disease is easier to treat when caught early. So, talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your heart health. And if you are diagnosed with heart disease, make sure to follow your treatment plan for the best outcomes.
If heart disease is left untreated, heart disease can severely impact daily life and become life-threatening. Individuals may struggle to perform routine tasks because they become easily out of breath or experience chest pain. In the long-term, untreated heart disease could lead to a heart attack, stroke, or even heart failure. Untreated heart disease also increases risk of death.
If your symptoms are preventing you from maintaining your quality of life, know that help is available. Our professional caregivers can assist you with everything from bathing to laundry. We can also take you to and from doctor’s appointments and help you with your medication schedule. Reach out to your local Caring office to learn how we can help support your heart health.