The health of your heart and cardiovascular system is an extremely important thing to keep your eye on. As heart disease is the number one cause of death on North America, your life literally depends on your ability to monitor and correctly interpret the early signs of heart trouble. If you are repeatedly experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should consult a doctor to check it out. When it comes to heart health, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
1. Labored Breathing or Shortness of Breath (i.e., Dyspnea)
An early sign that something is wrong with your heart is an unnatural shortness of breath and a feeling of compression on your chest that makes it difficult to inhale. Shortness of breath typically indicates an early stage of heart disease, and a study carried out by the National Institute of Health (and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Institute) found that 40% of women who had had heart attacks reported a strange shortness of breathe.
This shortness of breath is evidence that your heart isn’t pumping enough oxygen into your bloodstream. Having a persistent cough that makes it difficult to breathe is also something to be aware of. According to MedicineNet, this can be a sub-symptom of dyspnea.
2. Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Just like shortness of breath, restricted breathing while sleeping can be another symptom of poor heart health. Studies have found that those with sleep apnea were three times more likely to have a heart attack within the subsequent five years then those who did not.
3. Aching in the Chest or Shoulder
A common symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD) is angina, which is a type of chest pain that feels like a deep ache or weight on the chest. Angina can often be missed because it’s mistaken for ingestion or muscle pain, but one way to identify it is to recognize when the problem is occurring repeatedly, and not resulting from an isolated incident. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 17 million people are living with angina.
4. Irregular Heartbeat
Another early sign that the cardiovascular system is not functioning properly is an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. This is hard to mistake for anything else, as it may feel like the heart is skipping beats, or beating too hard and too fast. The most common cause of irregular heartbeat is CAD, which restricts the blood flow to the heart throw blocked arteries. This strains the body’s electrical system, and throws your heartbeat out of rhythm.
5. Swollen Legs or Feet
If you’ve been noticing a strange tightness when you take off shoes and socks, you might be having a problem with fluid retention, or edema, which is a sign of CAD, heart failure and other cardiovascular problems. This happens when the heart isn’t pumping strongly enough to carry waste products away from the tissue.
6. Sore and Swollen Gums
Experts believe that poor circulation as a result of heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease that has symptoms of sore and swollen gums. The link between these two ailments may have something to do with a similar bacterium that is responsible for a build-up of plaque in the mouth and the arteries.
7. Sexual Problems
Something that most people don’t know is that erectile dysfunction is actually one of the best early tip-offs to progressive heart disease. Narrowing of the arteries restricts blood flow to the penis in men and can limit sexual arousal in women, while lack of oxygen in the blood can lead to prolonged fatigue and weakness that can impede libido.
8. Lack of Appetite
Many people with heart problems, whether they know it or not, can experience loss of appetite and possibly even feelings of nausea when they eat. According to a study from the Medical University of Vienna, researchers discovered that patients with weak hearts who are more prone to heart failure, “increased levels of the hormone BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide) are released,” which can inhibit their appetite.
9. High Levels of Anxiety
If you grew up with anxiety or experienced a traumatic event some time in your life, studies suggest that you have a higher risk of developing heart problems. As reported by the American Heart Association, these extreme (and unusual) levels of stress and anxiety take a negative toll on the heart (e.g., high blood pressure or decreased heart rate) and may cause a heart attack.
10. Eczema, Shingles, and Other Skin Problems
In May 2018, a study in The British Medical Journal found that people “with severe eczema had a 20 percent increased risk of stroke and a 40 percent to 50 percent greater risk of unstable angina, heart attack, atrial fibrillation and death from heart disease. This group also had a 70 percent increased risk for heart failure.” Another research letter published July 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that, in comparison to people with shingles, those with the skin condition were 59% more likely to suffer a heart attack.
A less common symptom of heart disease is pale or bluish skin. These changes in skin color can be due to reduced blood flow, a lower red blood cell count, or your heart failing to pump blood properly through your body.
11. Loss of Consciousness or Fainting
Feeling lightheaded (and, in more extreme cases, fainting) can be a tell-tale sign that you could have heart problems. Chances are this is caused by a narrowed or clogged artery which makes it harder for your heart to pump blood sufficiently, especially to your brain. If you’re someone who already has a weak heart and you experience dizzy spells or fainting, please see your doctor immediately.
Those are 11 signs that your heart is not working properly. Some of them actually surprised us because they’re not the most obvious sign that comes to mind when you think of heart problems. (Like number six!) So, if you noticed even one or more of them, you might want to book a doctor appointment just to be safe. It’s better to safe than sorry!