5 Early Signs of Heart Problems
Did you know that heart disease kills more people each year than all types of cancer combined? The American College of Cardiology found that 1 in 4 Americans dies of heart disease, making it the #1 cause of death in the United States.
So what exactly is included under the heart disease umbrella? Essentially, any condition where narrowed or blocked blood vessels is preventing your heart, brain, and vital organs from receiving enough blood – including chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, and other muscle/valve-related heart issues. Many warnings of heart problems go unseen and unfelt.
Don’t get caught by surprise – be on the lookout for these 5 signs of heart problems:
High Blood Pressure:
What’s the big deal with high blood pressure? Turns out when your heart is pumping super hard trying to circulate blood through your blood vessels and arteries, it puts a lot of stress, wear and tear on those arteries and your heart. Over time, damaged and weak arteries can lead to blockages, blood clots, and aneurysms. In addition, the stress from constant pumping can induce an enlarged heart, heart failure, and coronary artery disease (where weakened arteries simply can’t carry enough blood to the heart.)
What to do: With 75 million Americans experiencing hypertension (high blood pressure), lifestyle changes are our best bet for tackling it. Talk with your doctor, monitor your blood pressure closely, and incorporate foods and drinks that lower blood pressure into your diet. Limiting salt intake, staying hydrated, managing stress levels, and exercising regularly will also help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Extreme Exhaustion & Breathing Difficulty:
Are you finding yourself fatigued after completing simple tasks like bringing groceries in from the car or doing laundry? Shortness of breath, feeling winded, and exhaustion can all be signs of heart trouble. If the pumping process of the heart is impaired, this can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs and cause coughing, wheeze, and breathing difficulties. As your heart struggles to pump enough blood to meet the needs of body tissues, it diverts blood to vital organs.
What to do: Seek immediate assistance from a healthcare professional who will refer you to emergency care if needed.
Exaggerated snoring, gasping, and choking while sleeping could be signs of sleep apnea, where you stop breathing in momentary intervals throughout the night. When your body isn’t getting enough oxygen while you sleep, this places additional stress on the heart and can be an early sign of heart trouble.
What to do: Listen to your spouse if they are telling you your snoring is out of control! Talk to your doctor about attending a sleep study or having a simple oxygen test administered while you sleep. Based on the results, further testing to validate the health of the heart can be done, as well as formulating treatment plans to address the sleep apnea (i.e. using a CPAP machine.)
Swelling of Limbs:
If your shoes seem tighter than normal or you notice sudden weight gain, you could be dealing with fluid build-up. Swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen (also known as edema) can result from heart disease. When blood flowing out of the heart slows down because of weak and damaged blood vessels, the blood flowing back in gets backed up into tissues and organs. With organs no longer functioning at 100%, the body’s ability to dispose of sodium and excess water, for example, diminishes and causes fluid retention.
What to do: Seek immediate medical assistance if you notice fluid retention and unexpected swelling. Limit salt intake, elevate the swollen limb, and move it regularly to help force excess fluid back to the heart.
Increased Heart Rate:
Experiencing a fluttering or throbbing heart rate? Unless you’re meeting your celebrity crush or just finishing up a high-intensity workout, your increased heart rate could be a sign of heart trouble. As your heart’s pumping capacity weakens with heart disease, its attempt to keep up is felt as the heart beating faster and faster.
What to do: Measure your heart rate at rest by sitting and taking your pulse on the radial artery located on the thumb side of the wrist – measure the number of beats in 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. A normal resting heart rate will fall anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Consult your doctor if you notice a consistent increased resting heart rate above 100 beats per minute.
Additional warning signs of heart trouble can be as simple as dizziness, faintness, nausea, and confusion. No matter the symptom, understanding what heart disease is and knowing the frequency with which Americans experience heart disease is key to preventing it. Lifestyle, genetics, and environment all play a role in heart health, but your own body awareness and ability to recognize when something doesn’t seem right falls completely to you.