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Taking Your Symptoms to Heart

Six warning signs of heart disease.

Heart disease isn’t always dramatic. It is a silent but deadly disease that sneaks up on you without warning. By the time symptoms show up, it’s often too late. There is irreparable damage—or worse. This is one reason why regular health checkups are so important. By catching heart disease in its early stages, it can be more easily treated and further damage can be prevented.

Heart disease encompasses a range of cardiovascular conditions that affect your blood vessels, cause heart defects, and result in heart rhythm problems. The leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease affects people of all walks of life. It doesn’t discriminate based on sex, nationality, or sexual preference.

Symptoms of heart disease depend on what form you have. Wondering if you have heart disease? Here are a few signs and symptoms that indicate you might.

Chest Pain

Your heart is in your chest so it makes sense that chest pain could indicate a heart problem. Unfortunately, many other conditions cause chest pain, making it hard to know if heart problems are to blame. With heart disease, the pain isn’t caused by what you eat. It’s caused by a lack of blood flow or oxygen to the heart. The intensity of your pain isn’t a clear indicator that heart disease is present. Heart disease-related chest pain ranges from mild discomfort to crushing pain. It may feel like pressure or burning. And some chest pain isn’t felt in the chest. It’s felt in the back, stomach, neck, arms, or jaw.

Coughing and Wheezing

Coughing and wheezing are usually associated with lung conditions, but they can indicate congestive heart failure (CHF). When your heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to the body, fluid may build up in the lungs, causing pulmonary congestion. A potentially deadly condition, CHF affects more than 6 million people in the United States alone.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is another sign your heart can’t do its job effectively. Failure to properly pump blood can cause fluid to back up in the veins responsible for returning blood to the heart from the lungs. Too much fluid in the lungs can cause shortness of breath during rest, while lying on your back, or while doing activity.

Fatigue

There is no shortage of reasons you may feel fatigued. Lack of sleep, poor diet, a sleep disorder, and a host of other health conditions may be to blame. You may be surprised to learn heart disease can also bring on this tiring symptom. Women in particular may feel extreme fatigue prior to or during a heart attack. Be wary of fatigue that prevents you from doing normal activities or that comes on suddenly. It could be heart-related.

Swelling in the Legs or Feet

Another symptom to watch for is edema in the legs, ankles, or feet. When your heart isn’t able to pump blood efficiently, blood may pool in the veins in your lower legs, causing swelling. Some folks may notice swelling in their abdomen. The swelling may cause discomfort or limit mobility or range of motion.

Rapid or Irregular Heartbeat

A sick or damaged heart may try to pump harder and faster to keep up with blood flow, causing a racing or irregular heartbeat. In some cases, an irregular heartbeat may signal an arrhythmia, a problem with the electrical signals in your heart. These problems are often present at birth, but many people go years and even decades without a diagnosis.