Heart disease symptoms don’t always show up in in-your-face ways. Sometimes the clues are subtle.
But first, the obvious: If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, get to an emergency department immediately. Symptoms may include chest pain, pain that radiates to the jaw, sweating without cause, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea.
Heart disease starts well before a heart attack, and if you’re aware of changes in your body, you might be able to address its progress before you have an emergency.
The problem is that many of the “sneaky” clues to heart disease are not specific to that condition, says cardiologist Michael Faulkner, MD, with the Baptist Health Medical Group in Paducah.
“Practically every patient I see will have one of these symptoms,” he says. Most often, the cause is not a problem with a heart — but sometimes it is. So if you experience any of the following, bring it to your provider’s attention.”
5 Heart Disease Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
- Fatigue. A lack of energy can be a sign of heart disease. But it also can be a sign of countless other issues, from jet lag and overwork to medical conditions such as anemia.
“Lots of people blow off fatigue as just getting old, but if they notice a loss of stamina it might be indicative of a heart issue,” Dr. Faulkner says. If you remain tired for an extended period or if you can’t do things you used to do, mention the fatigue to your doctor, he says.
Fatigue can also be caused by sleep apnea, a condition that’s related to cardiovascular disease.
- Erectile dysfunction. Difficulty getting or keeping an erection is not uncommon in men with heart disease, Dr. Faulkner says, because the penis may not get enough blood. That’s why men who seek treatment for erectile dysfunction should be screened for cardiovascular disease first, and men dealing with ED should tell their doctors.
- Leg or hip pain when walking. In someone with heart disease, pain while walking might not be from working joints or muscles. Instead, the pain could be caused by a narrowing of the arteries that can limit oxygen flow to tissue. People with diabetes are especially likely to experience this symptom as an early sign of heart disease.
- Dizziness. An abnormality in the heart’s rhythm, which causes it to beat too fast or too slow, can cause dizziness. While heart rhythm abnormalities are not generally related to blocked arteries, disturbances in the heart’s electrical system is a type of heart disease.
- Swelling. Fluid that builds up in the feet, ankles and legs can be a sign of heart disease. “Patients with advanced congestive heart failure may be prone to increased fluid retention in the legs due to high pressures within the heart,” Dr. Faulkner says. Often it’s a sign of venous insufficiency, in which blood does not flow back to the heart properly.
When meeting with a patient who shows early signs of heart disease, Dr. Faulkner does a work-up that includes a medical history and an assessment of heart disease risk. He may also order screening electrocardiogram (EKG) and a stress test, a timed workout on a treadmill to monitor the heart’s performance.
“If you have any of these symptoms, don’t worry,” Dr. Faulkner says. “But do tell your doctor.”
Are you experiencing symptoms of heart disease? In an emergency, call 911, or phone the Baptist Health Paducah Chest Pain Hotline any time you have questions: 800.575.1911.