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Symptoms of Heart Disease
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. - Steve Jobs
But then you need a healthy heart to follow! Heart is one of most impacted organ in a human body. There are several diseases waiting to pounce on it if given a chance. EHC details the different symptoms of heart disease in this article.
Learn to recognize the symptoms that may signal heart disease. Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe.
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked, heart attack can occur.
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, or chest pain. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing, or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back. Other symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
- Shortness of breath, palpitations (irregular heart beats).
- Faster heartbeat.
- Weakness or dizziness.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
A heart attack happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart cannot get oxygen. If blood flow is not restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.
Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the world. The good news is that excellent treatments are available for heart attacks. These treatments can save lives and prevent disabilities.
Heart attack treatment works best when it’s given right after symptoms occur. Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone.
- Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm.
- Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn).
- Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness.
- Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
During a heart attack, symptoms typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications. Initial symptoms may start as a mild discomfort that progress to significant pain. Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms, which is known as “silent” myocardial infarction. It occurs more often in people with diabetes.
Symptoms of Arrhythmias
Arrhythmia is the medical name for disorders of heart rate or heart rhythm, such as beating too fast, too slow, or irregularly. The disease causes symptoms in the cardiopulmonary system.
Arrhythmias are caused by an abnormality in the conduction of nerve signals (impulses) within the heart muscle that affects the way the heart beats. Symptoms of arrhythmia are:
- Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or flip-flops in your chest).
- Pounding in your chest.
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest discomfort.
- Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired).
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart).
- Lack of energy.
- Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed).
- Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest).
- Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during normal activities).
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease can disturb the normal flow of blood through the heart. This can affect your overall health and keep you from enjoying the activities you love. Heart valves can develop one or both of these problems:
- The valve opening becomes narrow which limits the amount of blood pumped to the rest of the body.
- The valve does not close completely (valve insufficiency or regurgitation) – which means that blood can flow backward instead of only forward. Backward blood flow reduces your heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of your body. This also causes a buildup of back pressure in your heart and lungs.
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. You may notice this most when you are doing your normal daily activities or when you lie down flat in bed.
- Weakness or dizziness.
- Discomfort in your chest. You may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
- Palpitations (this may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling in your chest).
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. In some cases, the heart can’t fill with enough blood. In other cases, the heart can’t pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people have both problems. Symptoms of heart failure can include:
- Shortness of breath noted during activity (most commonly) or at rest, especially when you lie down flat in bed.
- Cough that is productive of a white sputum.
- Rapid weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible).
- Swelling in ankles, legs, and abdomen.
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
- Other symptoms include nausea, palpitations, and chest pain.
Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart’s structure that are present at birth. These defects can involve the interior walls of the heart, valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or out to the body. Congenital heart defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.
Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. In adults, if symptoms of congenital heart disease are present, they may include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Limited ability to exercise.
- Symptoms of heart failure (see above) or valve disease (see above).
Symptoms of congenital heart defects in infants and children may include:
- Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, fingernails, and lips).
- Fast breathing and poor feeding.
- Poor weight gain.
- Recurrent lung infections.
- Inability to exercise.
Symptoms of Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. The walls of the heart become rigid, and the heart loses its ability to pump blood. In some instances, heart rhythm is disturbed, leading to irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias. Symptoms of cardiomyopathy may occur at any age and may include:
- Chest pain or pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity, but can also occur with rest or after meals).
- Heart failure symptoms (see above).
- Swelling of the lower extremities.
- Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms).
Symptoms of Pericarditis
Pericarditis describes the condition where the thin membrane lining the heart becomes inflamed. Most often, acute pericarditis is self-limiting and will resolve within a few weeks. However, it may recur and is considered chronic if the symptoms persist for more than 6-12 months. Some people that develop pericarditis can have complications such as fluid accumulation around the heart (pericardial effusion) or heart compression (pericardial constriction) that may require emergency or surgical interventions. When present, symptoms of pericarditis may include:
- Chest pain. This pain is different from angina (chest pain caused by coronary artery disease). It may be sharp and located in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck and occasionally, the arms and back. It is made worse when lying down, taking a deep breath in, coughing, or swallowing and relieved by sitting forward.
- Low-grade fever.
- Increased heart rate.
EHC would like to conclude echoing Nelson Mandela’s words – A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
Dr Aswathy Sreejith,
Medical Officer, Dept of Emergency Medicine, Ananthapuri Hospitals and Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram