5 Heart Disease Warning Signs

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Americans. There are many types and causes of heart disease. Some heart disease symptoms require urgent care. Others can be early warning signs. Here are 5 symptoms you should not to ignore.

heart problems

Pay attention to such symptoms as lightheadedness or dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and even heart palpitations, all signs of cardiovascular problems.

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There are many types of heart disease, but the most common in the United Sates is coronary artery disease (CAD) which is decreased blood flow to your heart. Heart attack, abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias), and heart failure are other common heart disease conditions. [1] Common warning signs for these conditions include chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling from fluid retention. [1-3]

Chest Pain

Chest pain is the most common symptom of CAD and of heart attack. The medical term for chest pain is angina. Angina occurs when there is not enough blood or oxygen reaching your heart muscles. Angina can be mild or severe. It may be described as crushing, squeezing, or burning. It can occur under your chest bone (sternum) or in your arm, neck, jaw, or upper back. Angina may be triggered by stress or exercise. [2]

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to your heart is blocked. Heart muscle may start to die if blood flow does not improve. Heart attack warning signs along with chest pain may include: [3]

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Palpitations
  • Severe sweating
  • Heartburn or indigestion [1]
  • Extreme fatigue [1]
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

Chest pain can be caused by other conditions that are not related to heart disease like indigestion. [2] Chest pain can also be caused by heart conditions different from CAD, like heart infections or arrhythmias. [3]

Palpitations

Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rates or abnormal heart rhythms. Arrhythmias can cause palpitations. However, most palpitations are not caused by an arrhythmia. They can be an occasional missed beat or a brief change in your hearts rate or rhythm, lasting a few seconds. Palpitations may be felt in your chest or in your neck. They may feel like your heart is racing, fluttering, skipping, or pounding. [4]

Common causes of palpitations include stress, anxiety, exercise, caffeine, nicotine, cold medications, and fever. Palpitations may be caused by an arrhythmia if they are becoming more frequent or more severe. Several heart diseases cause arrhythmia, including heart failure and atrial fibrillation. Let your doctor know if you have frequent or severe palpitations or palpitations along with:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness or fainting (called syncope)
  • Difficulty breathing

Shortness of Breath

The medical term for shortness of breath is dyspnea. Many common causes of dyspnea are not related to heart disease, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. One common heart disease that does cause dyspnea as the main symptom is congestive heart failure (CHF). [5]

If you have CHF, it means your heart is not beating strongly enough to pump all the blood out of your heart. As blood backs up into your lungs, fluid leaks into your lungs causing dyspnea. People may describe dyspnea as shortness of breath, not being able to get enough air, being unable to take a deep breath, or tightness in the chest. [5]

CHF dyspnea may be worse when you are active or lying flat on your back. Dyspnea may wake you from sleep or cause you to wake up tired. Other symptoms that go along with CHF are swelling in your feet and ankles and tiring easily (fatigue). [3,5] Fluid that builds up in your lungs from CHF can also cause persistent wheezing or coughing that produces blood-tinged mucous. [3,6]

Fatigue

Fatigue may be a warning symptom of heart disease if you have fatigue all the time and it is severe enough to interfere with your everyday activities. You may have trouble climbing stairs or going for a walk. This type of fatigue may be a warning for CHF. Because your heart does not pump well with CHF, you have trouble getting enough blood and oxygen to your body. Your body will direct the blood supply to the most important areas, like your brain and heart. This reduces blood supply to your muscles, especially the muscles of your arms and legs, leaving you fatigued. [6]

Swelling

A type of swelling called edema is a common warning symptom of CHF. It happens because your heart is not pumping strongly enough to return all your blood to your heart. Fluid leaks out your blood into areas that are farthest away from your heart, like your feet, ankles, and legs. One of the first warning signs may be that your shoes feel tight. As edema gets worse, you may have swelling in your belly, hands, and neck. [1,3,6]

Prevention of Heart Disease

Managing heart disease risk factors with your doctor is the best way to prevent heart disease. This includes getting control of conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. You should also maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart-healthy diet, get enough exercise, avoid alcohol, and not smoke. [1]

Tell your doctor if you have any warning signs of heart disease. Call 911 if: [2,3]

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack or think you may be having a heart attack.
  • You have been diagnosed with angina and you have angina that does not go away in 5 minutes.
  • You have difficulty breathing.

Sources

  1. CDC, About Heart Disease, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm
  2. Mayo Clinic, Heart Disease, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118
  3. Mount Sinai, Warning signs and symptoms of heart disease, https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/selfcare-instructions/warning-signs-and-symptoms-of-heart-disease
  4. Mayo Clinic, Palpitations, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-palpitations/symptoms-causes/syc-20373196
  5. Cleveland Clinic, Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea), https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/16942-shortness-of-breath-dyspnea?view=print
  6. American Heart Association, Warning Signs of Heart Failure, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/warning-signs-of-heart-failure

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Chris Iliades, MD

Chris Iliades has an MD degree and 15 years of experience as a freelance writer. Based in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, his byline has appeared regularly on many health and medicine … Read More

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