Early Signs of Heart Trouble
There’s been a lot of attention given to the five alarming signs that you may be having a heart attack, when it’s time to call 911:
- Chest discomfort or pain.
- Discomfort in other parts of the body—typically the jaw, back, neck, arms or stomach.
- Shortness of breath that persists for more than two minutes.
- Nausea, sweating, clamminess or “turning white”—symptoms that can be mistaken for the flu except that they come on suddenly.
- A general feeling of extreme weakness or fatigue that seems to come on suddenly.
By the time you’re experiencing those symptoms, you may have just minutes to rescue your heart before irreversible damage occurs. Are there earlier signs that we ignore or misinterpret that could help prevent a heart attack? Perhaps there are. Caring.com has issued seven conditions that statistics have shown can be early signs of heart disease:
- In men, erectile dysfunction. Narrowing and hardening of the arteries will restrict blood flow to parts of the body. The arteries leading to the penis are smaller than those leading to the heart, so sexual issues may emerge long before the heart gets the same message.
- Breathing problems during sleep. Snoring and sleep apnea lower the blood oxygen that feeds the heart. If the breathing problems are caused by an obstruction, the heart will have to pump harder to support the lungs, which are strained by trying to overcome the airway obstruction. So these nighttime breathing problems can actually lead to or worse a heart problem.
- Sore, swollen or bleeding gums. Poor circulation due to heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease. Researchers also are testing to determine whether a common bacteria involved in gum disease also builds plaque inside coronary arteries.
- Edema—puffy legs and feet. Fluid retention occurs when the heart isn’t pumping efficiently, so the blood can’t carry waste products away from tissues. Circulation then is limited first in areas farthest from the heart—feet, ankles, legs, hands and fingers.
- Irregular heartbeat. Also called arrhythmia, a skipping, racing or pounding heartbeat can indicate that the heart is not getting adequate blood flow or that heart failure is weakening the heart, which then overcompensates by beating harder and faster.
- Tightness in the shoulder or chest. This tightening can be angina, which feels like a deep ache or heaviness. It’s easy to dismiss: you can be walking around with angina for a long time, putting yourself at risk for a heart attack.
- Subtle shortness of breath. When it's "just a little" shortness, you may think that it’s due to aging, but difficulty breathing without a high level of exertion indicates that your heart isn’t pumping strongly enough.
Although these “seven signs” are not always associated with heart problems, it’s a good idea to mention it to your doctor when you experience any of them.