A person in the US will die of cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds, making it one of the leading causes of death for Americans. Additionally, approximately 655,000 Americans die from heart complications each year, down to one in four deaths.
While these statistics are alarming, it is more alarming that many people are completely unaware of the small and insidious signs that could indicate cardiovascular problems.
“Many people see chest pain as a warning sign of cardiovascular disease,” said Mariko Harper, a Seattle physician. specializing in cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology, and echocardiography. But, he added, “While more than half of people have chest discomfort when they have a heart attack, up to a third of patients, especially women, do not have any chest symptoms. They can present with more atypical or subtle symptoms. “
Ignoring these signs means ignoring your entire well-being.
If the body were considered a machine, the heart would be the battery that powers it, said Aeshita Dwivedi, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “In essence, without a properly functioning heart, the rest of the body cannot function optimally,” he said.
Here are some subtle but serious signs that you may be dealing with a cardiovascular problem, plus some tips on how to better improve your heart health:
Swelling in the lower extremities.
Christine Bishara, founder of From Within Medical’s integrative medical practice in New York, said that swelling in the lower legs, particularly the ankles and feet, can signify a heart condition. This problem is also known as edema.
“If your heart loses its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, either through weakened heart muscles or damage to heart tissue from a silent heart attack, blood flow can slow and pool in the legs, causing swelling “. she said.
As mentioned, some people will not experience chest pains when dealing with heart problems. While this can happen to anyone, Bishara said this is particularly true for people with diabetes. Instead, they may experience trouble breathing.
“Since diabetes affects and attenuates nervous sensations, [someone who is diabetic] with a serious heart condition you may never experience symptoms of chest pain, ”he said. “This is the reason why shortness of breath should never be ignored, especially if it is a new appearance.”
A tired feeling that you can’t seem to shake could be another subtle sign of heart problems, according to Bishara. Especially if it has apparently come out of nowhere.
“If your fatigue symptoms are acute onset or without an identifiable underlying cause, see your doctor,” he said.
Unexplained pain in the upper back, left shoulder, or arm
Bishara said that these pains “should not be ignored, as they can also be signs of a heart block or impending heart attack. Back symptoms are common in women and can sometimes be the only symptom. ” This is particularly true if the pain is random (for example, you did not strain something during exercise).
Palpitations that come out of nowhere
The timing of such palpitations is as important as the symptom itself. Be aware that exercise, caffeine, and anxiety can all cause a racing pulse. However, let’s say you’re sitting or in another relaxed state and your heart starts to race, that could be a sign that something is wrong. Dizziness and lightheadedness can also be symptoms.
Cardiovascular problems can manifest as discomfort in the jaw. Marcus Smith, a physician at the CardioVascular Health Clinic in Oklahoma, He said he has had patients complain of jaw pain that they initially believed was related to the teeth. They later found out that it was related to angina, which can be a heart problem.
“The nerves that innervate your heart and capture the sensation of pain are the same nerves that capture the same sensation for orthopedic problems, gastrointestinal problems and dental problems; it’s the same nerve distribution, ”he said. “People who have heart problems will often say that they had jaw pain. That is why no symptoms should be set aside because it could represent a cardiac symptom. “
What to do if you have these symptoms
If you experience any of these problems, it is best to seek medical attention. (If you think you’re having a heart attack or stroke, definitely call 911.)
Smith said your doctor will first ask you questions about your lifestyle habits and behaviors to assess your risk factors. From there, you can undergo an exam (or you could be referred to a cardiologist) to better see what is happening.
There are also things you need to do outside of your doctor’s office. Suzanne Steinbaum, a volunteer medical expert with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement and a cardiologist in New York, recommended taking steps to improve your overall heart health. The first is to monitor your blood pressure. A normal range is 120/80 or less.
“High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” Steinbaum said. “Watching your diet and exercise, and incorporating stress management are key components to lowering your blood pressure.”
Cholesterol also plays an important role. For adults, total cholesterol should be around 200 or less (the lower the better). LDL cholesterol (known as bad cholesterol) should be less than 100 for women and men. HDL (the good cholesterol) should be 40 or more for men and 50 or more for women.
“High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke,” Steinbaum said. “When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries the best chance to stay clear of blockages. Cholesterol can often be controlled with dietary changes, increasing the amount of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, as well as incorporating healthy fats. Reducing saturated fat is also an important part of this. “
Finally, try your best to get a move that you enjoy. The American Heart Association recommends about 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. (Here’s a list of activities you can do to reach this goal – no boring cardio required!)
“Living an active life is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones,” Steinbaum said. “Simply put, daily physical activity increases the length and quality of life.”