Thanks to advancements in medical treatment and more education about healthy eating, fewer people die of heart disease than in the past.
Even so, complications from heart disease are still the #1 cause of death in the United States. Although heart attack symptoms can be the first signs of trouble, sometimes your body offers up subtle clues something is wrong with your heart before a serious problem hits. Learn more about the early warning signs of heart disease.
Early Signs of Heart Disease
1. Irregular or loud heartbeat
If you sometimes feel like your heart is skipping a beat or two, you may be experiencing atrial fibrillation. People with a loud faulty valve can hear the sound of their valve at night when they are trying to fall asleep.
So if you’re being lulled to sleep by the thump-thump of your heart or your heart is skipping beats, tell your doctor so he/she can find out why and address any issues before it is too late.
If you often find yourself exhausted from doing tasks that were once part of your normal daily routine, this may be a sign of concern.
Increased tiredness could be just a lack of sleep; but extreme fatigue is more of a sign that should be looked into.
“A lot of women kind of blow this off assuming it’s nothing and that they will feel better, but in reality it could be a sign of your heart,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, Director of Women’s Heart Health at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The reason why you feel that way: It comes down to a lack of oxygen. This extreme tiredness occurs because your heart is struggling and straining to deliver the oxygen to your body.”
Plenty of people feel tired for lots of reasons, so if this is your only symptom, talk to your doctor, but don’t conclude you have heart trouble based on this sign alone, but don’t ignore it either.
It’s fairly common for people to snore while they sleep. However, there is a type of snoring that should cause concern. When a snorer repeatedly stops breathing for brief moments, it’s a condition known as sleep apnea, in which the person may experience pauses in breathing 5 to 30 times per hour or more during sleep.
These episodes wake the sleeper as he or she gasps for air. It prevents restful sleep and is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and heart failure. If you have this sympton, you can do a sleep study to find out for sure if you have sleep apnea. There are sleep apnea machines you can wear while sleeping to monitor and help you have more restful sleep.
4. Persistent cough/wheezing
A persistent cough that you just can’t get over is a sign of a cold, but it can also be the sign of heart failure if you are coughing up pink or white mucous.
This is because blood is getting into your lungs. Fluid buildup affecting the left side of the heart can produce wheezing that simulates bronchial asthma. If you have either or both of these symptoms, you’ll want a doctor to check you out as soon as possible.
5. Swollen feet
Feet swelling can occur for a bunch of reasons, such as pregnancy, varicose veins, or when you have limited ability to move around.
However, “swelling can also occur when the heart valve doesn’t close normally,” says Michael Miller, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Some medications for blood pressure and diabetes could also cause swelling, says Dr. Miller. “Heart-related foot swelling is usually accompanied by other symptoms that include shortness of breath and/or fatigue,” he says.
6. Hip and leg muscle cramping
If your hip and leg muscles cramp when you climb stairs, walk, or move, then feel better when you rest, don’t necesarily shrug it off as old age or a lack of exercise. It could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease, also known as PAD.
PAD is a buildup of fatty plaque in leg arteries that is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. If you have PAD, there’s a 50% chance you also have a blockage in one of your heart arteries. If diagnosed, PAD is a very treatable condition.
7. Dizzy or light-headed
Becoming dizzy or light-headed can be caused by overexertion such as exercising beyond your capacity, dehydration or because you got up too quick.
This spinning state could be caused by blockages in arteries, by faulty valves or could just be an inner ear issue. If it occurs on a regular basis, consult with your doctor.
Sometimes a migraine is just a regular bad headache. But in some cases, regular migraines suggest that something may be wrong with your heart. Migraines occur in 12% of the general population with this stat rising to approximately 40% in people with heart disease.
9. Anxious sweating
If you’re suddenly anxious and sweating, you may be experiencing a panic attack or have concerning heart issues. If these early heart issue signs are followed up or accompanied with shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or chest pain, then get to an emergency room immediately.
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