When many people think of heart problems, they picture sudden, intense chest pain or even heart attacks. The truth is not all heart conditions are obvious. Signs of heart disease, for instance, can be subtle and may even appear unrelated to the heart altogether.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart, or cardiovascular disease, is an umbrella term describing many health conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. It usually refers to an issue involving narrow or blocked blood vessels, but it may also refer to conditions affecting the heart’s muscles, valves and rhythm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Understanding the signs of heart of disease is one of the best things you can do to prevent serious, long-term health problems or even death.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several types of heart disease. Some are congenital, or present since birth, but the majority develop over time due to risk factors like poor diet, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, age, stress, lack of exercise or obesity. Both men and women are affected by heart disease equally.
These are some of the common types:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) – Plaque build-up in the arteries causes them to narrow, resulting in reduced blood and oxygen flow to the heart. This can lead to heart attacks and other serious complications.
- Arrhythmia – The heart does not beat properly, either too fast or slow or missing beats. Bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia (VT) and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) are common arrhythmias.
- Heart failure – The heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. This can be caused by high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, CAD or heart attack.
- Heart valve disease – One of the heart’s four valves is not pumping blood properly, potentially causing blood to flow backward through the heart.
Eight Signs of Heart Disease
This may manifest as tightness, pressure, pinching, burning or general pain. It is sometimes described as a “crushing” pain, like something is resting on your chest. This is indicative of the heart not receiving enough oxygen and could be a result of blood vessel problems or a sign of a heart attack.
Fatigue has many origins, but in rare cases it can be an early sign of heart disease, especially in women. It can be symptomatic of build-up in the blood vessels, or atherosclerosis, indicating the heart is not pumping enough blood to the rest of the body.
Shortness of Breath
It is common to feel out of breath after performing strenuous activities. But if you experience significant shortness of breath after minimal physical activity, it could signal a heart problem, such as arrhythmia, CAD, heart failure or infection.
Swollen Legs, Feet and Ankles
Swelling in the lower extremities can be caused by poor blood flow – often a result of CAD or heart failure. When blood backs up in the veins, it pools and causes bloating. Heart failure can also make it difficult for the kidneys to remove water from the body, causing sodium levels to drop dangerously.
Nausea and Stomach Pain
Women are more likely to experience these symptoms than men, especially during a heart attack. Since nausea and stomach pain are commonly experienced under many other circumstances, it may be best not to panic unless you are at risk for heart disease.
A dry, persistent cough is a symptom of endocarditis, a heart infection affecting the membrane separating the chambers and valves. Shortness of breath, swelling, fatigue and irregular rhythms can also signal the presence of infection.
Dizzy, Light-Headed Feeling
Feelings of dizziness, light-headedness or even fainting could imply arrhythmia or CAD. These symptoms can be brought on by a lack of oxygen to the brain due to poor blood flow or low blood pressure. If these feelings are accompanied by chest discomfort, you should call 911.
Jaw, Throat, Neck or Upper Abdomen Pain
This is another sign that can easily be confused with something else. Pain spreading from the chest or upper abdomen toward the jaw, throat or neck is symptomatic of heart disease in the blood vessels. It could also be an early sign of a heart attack.
Heart Health and Other Medical Care in Houston
When heart disease is identified in its early stages, complications like heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac arrest can be avoided with proper treatment. The caring, highly-trained staff at St. Hope Foundation have the skills to diagnose and treat all types of health problems, including heart issues. We are also conveniently located throughout the Houston metro area. Visit us online to find a location near you or contact us to schedule an appointment.