Your heart gives life to everything you do, but many of us don’t pay attention to the potentially serious warning signs it’s giving us. Finding what it’s telling you might just save your life.
Our heart is the control center for virtually everything in our body, keeping us alive, alert, and ready to conquer each new day. However, for many people, our hearts are doing more than just keeping our blood pumping —they’re trying to send us a message.
Heart disease is the number one killer around the world, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths in the United States alone. What’s worse is that many people ignore the symptoms of heart trouble, mistaking them for other, more minor medical issues. Every second counts when your heart is concerned, so ignoring your symptoms can prove fatal fast. We’ve compiled a list of the 20 warning signs your heart is giving you, many of them so subtle you might think they’re nothing at all. If you’re experiencing any of them, it’s time to talk to your doctor and make sure that minor issue doesn’t turn into a life-threatening one.
1. You Feel Queasy
That unsettled feeling in your stomach could be more than just a case of nerves. If your stomach is tied up in knots all of a sudden, or if you experience vomiting seemingly out of nowhere, it’s well worth mentioning to your doctor. Fortunately, nausea and vomiting are often early warning signs of a heart attack, so getting them attended to early may help you fight back before your life is at risk.
2. You’re Out of Breath
Whether you’re changing altitudes or upping the intensity on your workout, it’s not exactly unheard of for even regular exercisers to find themselves winded. However, if you’re struggling to breathe as you go about your daily business, it could be a sign that your heart isn’t working properly. Many individuals with heart disease develop pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. When the heart doesn’t effectively carry blood to and from your vital organs, your blood pressure increases, causing the transfer of fluid from your blood vessels to the alveoli, tiny air sacs inside the lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe and can often create a feeling of heaviness in the chest, similar to what some people experience during a panic attack.
3. You’re Dizzy
A little dizziness after a day at the amusement park is normal. When that feeling occurs seemingly out of nowhere, you might be in trouble. Dizziness is often a warning sign for heart disease, often accompanying pulmonary edema. When your brain isn’t receiving adequate blood flow, it can make you feel woozy, as can pulmonary edema, which can limit the amount of oxygenated blood being delivered to your organs.
4. Your Shoulder Aches or Is Numb
Numbness and pain in the left shoulder are among the most widely-reported heart attack symptoms, and definitely ones you shouldn’t ignore. While shoulder pain can also stem from everyday wear and tear, like tendonitis or a rotor cuff injury, if the pain is moving down your chest and into your fingertips, it’s important you call 911 right away. Often the pain isn’t just limited to your arm, however — many people experience it in their jaw and neck, too.
5. You’re Always Exhausted
We get it: there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done and get a good night’s rest, too. While there are tons of things in this world that can make you sleepy, from a lack of caffeine to poor sleep, sudden, unshakable fatigue can also be an indication your heart isn’t doing its job effectively. When your heart isn’t firing on all cylinders, it limits the amount of oxygen-rich blood to your organs, making everything you do both more difficult and more draining. Coupled with the fluid buildup in the lungs that often accompanies heart disease and you’ve got a recipe for serious exhaustion.
6. You’re Not Hungry
While it might be nice to imagine having our hunger for junk food disappear, when your appetite vanishes entirely, it can be cause for serious concern. Lack of hunger can often be an early warning sign of a heart attack, so if you find yourself turning up your nose at your favourite foods, it might be worth mentioning to a medical professional. Fortunately, just because you’re not hungry doesn’t mean you’re definitely dealing with something serious; everything from dietary changes to stress can cause your eating habits to change, too.
7. Your Thyroid is Functioning Improperly
Your thyroid is one of those body parts you’re unlikely to think about until an issue arises. Unfortunately, when your thyroid isn’t working properly, it can upend your life in virtually no time. A review of research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, and heart disease can also cause thyroid dysfunction by limiting blood flow and causing hormonal changes. Strangely enough, many of the symptoms of thyroid issues, like fatigue, coughing, and rapid weight gain, are also symptoms of heart disease, so investigating one issue may lead to the diagnosis of another.
8. You Feel a Sense of Doom
A sense of impending doom might be your heart’s way of telling you it’s time to high-tail it to the doctor. For many people with heart disease, the combined lack of oxygen and blood flow can create a profound sense of doom, which can appear out of nowhere. Coupled with the breathless feeling that often accompanies pulmonary edema, you can feel serious terror in even the most serene spaces.
9. You’re Always Thirsty
We could all stand to drink more water —the CDC suggests that most adults are drinking less than a third of what they should each day —but a constant thirst that never goes away might have more to do with your heart than your hydration. The combination of electrolyte imbalances and gastrointestinal upset that often go along with heart disease can make you feel thirsty even when you’ve just downed a significant amount of water, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re suddenly parched all the time.
10. You Have Sleep Apnea
The snoring that keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep could be a sign that your heart isn’t working as well as it should. Heart disease and sleep apnea often go hand-in-hand, although it’s not always clear if the former causes the latter, or vice versa. If you’re concerned that you may have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.
11. You’re Wheezing
If your breathing sounds like a creaky door being opened and shut, it’s high time you made an appointment with a medical professional. Pulmonary edema, a common symptom of heart disease, can cause wheezing and labored breathing, so if you feel like your breathing patterns have changed and don’t improve in a few days, it’s important that you get help ASAP.
12. Your Ankles Are Swollen
Spending all day on your feet can cause anyone’s legs and feet to become a bit swollen. If you don’t have a job that keeps you upright all day and your feet and ankles look like they’ve grown two sizes, your heart could be sending you a message. Your lungs aren’t the only part of your body that can be affected by edema; for many heart disease patients, edema of the lower extremities is a sign that their ticker needs a tune-up.
13. Your Heartbeat is Irregular
A little flutter in your chest when you’re in love is a good thing. A literal flutter in your chest on a regular basis is not. An irregular heartbeat can be a sign of heart disease, but more commonly, it’s a sign of arrhythmia. While most arrhythmias won’t cause long-term health issues, they do increase the risk of heart attack in some susceptible individuals. Arrhythmia can also be a sign of an electrolyte imbalance, so make sure you’re staying properly hydrated and eating enough nutritious food.
14. You’re Gaining Weight Fast
Few people welcome weight gain of any kind, but rapid weight gain when you haven’t changed your diet is particularly concerning. Gaining more than five pounds in a month without significant changes to your food or exercise habits definitely merits a trip to the doctor. The edema that often signifies heart disease can cause rapid weight gain, often most noticeable in the extremities and face, so make sure to keep an eye on the scale, especially if you have a family risk of heart health issues.
15. You Have Acid Reflux
That burning sensation in your chest might not just be the result of the nachos you had for dinner last night. Acid reflux can be a sign your heart isn’t working properly and should be addressed by a pro. Even if it’s not a symptom of heart disease, acid reflux can increase your risk of esophageal cancer, so it’s important to make sure you get it treated in an expeditious manner.
16. You’re Confused
Whether we’re figuring out the latest software update on our phones or trying to make sense of the current political climate, a little confusion is nothing new. However, feeling seriously confused — like can’t find your house on your block confused —can be a serious sign your heart isn’t fulfilling its obligations. When your heart isn’t working effectively, it limits the amount of oxygenated blood getting to your brain, making you more likely to get confused easily. If your sudden Mr. Magoo is less funny and more frightening, it’s time to see your doctor.
17. You Can’t Shake a Cough
Colds pass around workplaces faster than juicy gossip, but most of the time, a little rest and some hot tea will help you get back on your feet again. However, for those with heart disease — particularly those suffering from pulmonary edema — a persistent cough is often one of the first signifiers of their health issues. If you have a nagging cough that no cold medicine can touch, your doctor should know about it.
18. Your Heart is Pounding
When your heart is pounding after a hard workout, you may be on your way to a longer life. If your heart is pounding while you’re sitting at your desk, it’s time to talk to your doctor. As plaque in your arteries builds, it limits the ability for blood to flow through them, making your heart work harder while doing the same job. If your heart is pounding when doing everyday activities, it’s time to talk to a professional.
19. Your Exercise Routine is Getting Harder
From aching knees to reaching the point of exhaustion faster, there’s no doubt that exercising in mid-life or your later years can be a more difficult proposition than those 10-mile jogs you knocked out like they were nothing in your 20s. If a lack of stamina comes on suddenly or if you’re finding yourself panting after just a few minutes of exercise, it might be a sign that you’re dealing with decreased blood flow or pulmonary edema, both of which can be signs of heart failure.
20. You’re in Serious Pain
Serious chest pain is a symptom you should never ignore, even if you’re generally healthy and have no family history of heart disease. Heart attacks are thought to kill 50 percent of the people who have them, many of whom never even realized they had heart disease to begin with. The faster you have your possible cardiac symptoms addressed, the faster you can get life-saving treatment. Even if it turns out your symptoms aren’t actually heart-related, a doctor — not Dr. Google — is the only person who can tell you for sure what’s causing them.