According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is from heart disease, making it a leading cause of death in the country.1 Chances are you know someone who has been affected by the problem, even if they have managed it well with medication and lifestyle changes. Spotting the warning signs early and making the right changes can prevent you from ever having to go through the distress of a heart attack or stroke.
What Is Heart Disease?
When your heart begins to fail, it means it is no longer operating at its best and is unable to pump blood effectively. This may be due to some form of damage to the muscles of the heart, a chronic high blood pressure problem, faulty heart valves, a genetic problem (congenital heart disease), heart valve disease, and complications from rheumatic fever (causing rheumatic heart disease). The trigger could also be coronary artery disease, which leaves your arteries clogged with cholesterol or plaque, blocking them partially or almost completely preventing normal blood flow.2
Coronary heart disease or ischemic heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. If you have this problem, your heart muscles are unable to receive the oxygen and blood they need, leading to symptoms like chest pain, arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, and even heart attacks.3
Not Just A Man’s Disease
Heart problems are often considered a men’s issue, but that’s just a myth. Women are at risk of it too. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that the leading cause of death among women in the United States is actually heart disease and not cancer. Unfortunately, the condition can be what’s known as “silent” or symptom-free in many women. As many as 64 percent of all women who unexpectedly die of coronary heart disease have had no previous signs of the problem.4 That said, it may also be that women are not spending enough time noticing these little signs. Being mindful of these symptoms could help prevent things from getting out of hand.
Pain: Understanding This Warning Sign Of Cardiovascular Disease
One of the more common and widely known symptoms of heart disease is angina or chest pain. The pain and discomfort are a result of inadequate oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart muscle.5
Differences In Pain Symptoms Between Men And Women
- Where the pain is: Women usually complain of pain in the neck, jaw, abdomen, throat, or back unlike men who have chest pain more often.
- What triggers pain: The pain may occur during rest or even while sleeping for women and not just during a physical activity. Mental stress is likelier to trigger pain in women. In men, physical activity worsens their pain. When they rest, the pain usually goes away.
- How the pain feels: Sharp burning chest pain is typical in women but men experience a squeezing sensation or pressure in their chest. The more the plaque buildup, the worse the pain.
Spotting Heart Problems In Time: Signs To Watch Out For
Besides pain, there are other warning signs you should be aware of when it comes to the heart. Two situations you don’t want to end up in include having a heart attack or a full-blown heart failure. Thankfully, both problems do have red flags that can help you save your own life or someone else’s if you notice them in time. Besides this, it also helps to know how to spot a heart arrhythmia or abnormal heartbeat to check if it needs treatment.
Should you suspect you’re experiencing heart failure or having a heart attack, get emergency medical attention as fast as possible. If you are alone, call an ambulance and then inform a family member or friend.
Signs Of Heart Arrhythmia
A flutter in your chest could be due to irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. Left unchecked, it could develop into some of the more dangerous symptoms listed below.
While the first sign is the characteristic flutter, the symptoms that follow are more problematic.6
- Feeling of heart “skipping a beat” or a fluttering in the chest
- Rapid heartbeat, pounding in the chest
- Feeling faint, lightheaded, or actually fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the chest
- Cardiac arrest
Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack
Here is how you may be able to catch a heart attack before it happens or as it is starting.7 8
- Pain in the jaw/neck/back: Pain in the jaw, back, or neck or even discomfort in these areas may be a sign of an impending heart attack.
- Pain in the chest/angina: Discomfort or pain in the chest signal an oncoming heart attack.
- Pain in the shoulders/arms: Even painful arms or shoulders may be the result of a heart issue. Men are more likely to have pain in the left arm during a heart attack than women.
- Lightheadedness/dizziness: If you feel faint or weak, especially combined with other symptoms or if you are at risk of heart problems, this may be due to a heart attack. Women tend to experience this symptom more than men.
- Shortness of breath: if you find it hard to breathe, it may be because your heart is struggling to supply oxygen and blood.
- Nausea: Women may feel nauseous or the need to throw up when they are experiencing a heart attack.
- Heartburn and indigestion: Another symptom more common in women is the feeling of indigestion that is often ignored in the hope that it will eventually go away.
- Tiredness/fatigue: If you’re inexplicably tired, especially if you have other signs accompanying this, it may be due to a heart attack.
- Fluttering in the chest: Also known as palpitations, this fluttering in the chest can be caused by a heart attack or heart problem. However, since there are other harmless reasons for this like anxiety or dehydration, it is important to get yourself checked to be sure.9
If you miss the early signs, you may be unfortunate enough to have a heart attack someday. Even if that happens, getting timely medical attention is critical and may allow you to recover better and faster.
Early Warning Signs Of Heart Failure: “FACES”
Heart failure affects five million Americans, with 400,000 new cases diagnosed every year on an average. This progressive condition may even require hospitalization if not caught in time.10
Given the gravity of the problem, the earlier you spot it, the better. Here are some early warning signs that your heart could be in trouble:
The early warning signs of heart failure is represented in a convenient and easy-to-remember acronym “FACES” by the Heart Failure Society of America.11
- F – Fatigue: Tiredness due to inadequate oxygen rich blood pumped by the heart.
- A – Activity limitation: Shortness of breath/fatigue makes it hard to do normal activities.
- C – Congestion: Fluid builds up in lungs, causing trouble breathing/wheezing/coughing.
- E – Edema: Ankles, legs, thighs, and abdomen swell because your heart can’t pump blood powerfully enough back from your lower extremities, causing fluid to build up. You may gain weight from the excess fluid.
- S – Shortness of breath: Trouble breathing especially when lying down, due to fluid in lungs.
Some people also experience confusion, memory loss, and disorientation due to changing levels of sodium and other substances in the blood. A lack of appetite and nausea are also possible signs.12
|↑1||Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||5 warning signs of early heart failure. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑3||Coronary Artery Disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑4||Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease? National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute.|
|↑6||Symptoms, Diagnosis & Monitoring of Arrhythmia. American Heart Association.|
|↑7||Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑8||What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease? National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute.|
|↑9||Skipping a beat — the surprise of heart palpitations. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑10||HFSA Promotes Heart Failure Awareness Week 2015. Heart Failure Society of America.|
|↑11||5 warning signs of early heart failure. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑12||Warning Signs of Heart Failure. American Heart Association.|