You wake up one morning with chest pain, or perhaps your lungs feel tight. Is it heartburn? Indigestion? You’re unsure, but something just doesn’t feel right.
As you age, it’s difficult determining whether a symptom requires medical attention or not. Most doctors are most concerned with new symptoms that develop quickly, but it’s wise to monitor those that can develop over a period of time – and may eventually result in a heart attack.
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According to the American Heart Association, coronary artery disease, followed by stroke and heart failure, accounted for approximately 800,000 deaths in the United States last year. If you have a family history of heart disease, it’s wise to address chest pain and these four other symptoms sooner rather than later.
1. Chest Pain
Chest pain is one of the most widely recognized symptoms of heart disease. It’s caused by the narrowing of coronary arteries, which is also known as angina. Chest pain is often the first sign of a heart attack. However, you may experience the symptom without having heart disease. Because of this, it’s important to recognize the unique patterns of the chest pain you’re experiencing.
For example, chest pain that develops quickly but fades with rest is called stable angina. It’s predictable and only presents itself when the heart is overexerting itself. A second, more concerning type of chest pain is unstable angina. The pressure is similar but the symptom reveals itself at random. You may be taking a walk and suddenly feel pain or pressure in your chest.
People with unstable angina are at a higher risk of a heart attack so if you’re experiencing similar symptoms, we recommend contacting your doctor and describing the nature of the pain.
Here are some questions to think about before your visit:
- How long does the pain last?
- What makes it disappear?
- When did the pain first start?
- Do other symptoms accompany it?
- Is it a sharp pain? Or, is it achy?
- How often does it come and go?
2. Shortness of Breath
A second symptom to watch for is shortness of breath. If you’re having issues catching your breath while climbing stairs, it can signify a variety of health problems – heart attack, failure or hypotension. However, shortness of breath isn’t always a heart problem, it can be related to respiratory health like strain, allergies or asthma.
If you’re having trouble breathing while lying down, it can be a sign of heart failure. When this happens, fluid in the lungs begins to build up due to poor circulation. From there, it can spread to the lungs and make it difficult to breathe normally. If you’re noticing this symptom on a regular basis, we recommend consulting with your doctor. A physical, focusing on the heart and lungs should reveal what’s causing the issue.
If you’re experiencing lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting, you may be suffering from hypotension. This symptom typically occurs due to a drop in blood pressure, which is also known as syncope. While it isn’t life-threatening, it can be dangerous if you fail to address it.
Lightheadedness can also occur if you take blood pressure-lowering medications. It causes a sudden drop in pressure, which signifies the brain isn’t receiving enough blood circulation. The lightheadedness can also be a product of anemia, an inner ear problem or low blood sugar.
If you’re unsure what’s causing the lightheadedness, we recommend seeing your doctor. The dizziness you’re experiencing may be harmless, but it can also be a sign of heart attack or stroke.
Heart palpitations aren’t usually a sign of a heart attack, but a symptom of arrhythmia. While some are mild, others can be serious and require medications to prevent episodes where your heart isn’t beating normally. This causes strain to your heart, which may trigger some of the symptoms we mentioned above.
One of the most common types of arrhythmias is atrial fibrillation. This problem occurs in the atria of your heart. Instead of a steady heartbeat, people with this condition experience a quivering or racing heartbeat. When this happens, blood isn’t circulated to your organs and tissue properly. From there, blood can pool in the atria and cause a blood clot to develop – increasing your risk of stroke.
It’s important to recognize that palpitations like other symptoms can also be a result of strain, stress or anxiety and may not be a heart problem. Smoking, cold medicines and other drugs may also lead to palpitations. Even if palpitations don’t interfere with your daily life, you should still consult with a doctor before it becomes a more serious issue.
5. Swelling in the Legs
Another symptom of heart disease we recommend monitoring is an accumulation of fluid in your extremities. This can be caused by a number of things, but the most concerning to doctors is heart failure. When the heart can’t pump enough blood into the body, it backs up in the veins and causes fluid to collect in the body’s tissues. If you’re experiencing swelling in both legs and experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned above, we recommend seeing a doctor.
Swelling may also signify a vein problem known as venous insufficiency. This occurs when valves in the legs are weakened and cause a backup of blood. If this is the issue, the swelling will usually go away when you lie down or use compression stockings.
A pulmonary embolism (a clot in the lung artery) may also be the cause. It’s also associated with sharp chest pains and immobilization of the legs over a long period of time. Some other symptoms you may experience with this are shortness of breath and a fast heartbeat. If this is the case, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms like chest pain may not always signify a major problem.
Which is definitely okay! However, it’s important to recognize and monitor symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, palpitations and swelling as they may point to heart disease. Knowledge paired with prevention is the key to good health.
If you have any questions about heart disease or would like to schedule a scan to diagnosis the state of your health, we invite you to reach out to us today at (918) 879-6161.
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