Heart disease 101: Which symptoms matter most?

If unexplained chest pain or other signs wake you up, it’s an emergency

hands making a heart on red background

Part of your job as the owner of a beating heart is keeping it healthy as well as fixing it when there are problems.

Any list of things one can do to ward off or minimize heart issues is going to have to start with recognizing symptoms and seeking out medical attention when the situation warrants it.

It’s a necessary piece of any puzzle involving heart issues.

“A lot of times patients will have a lot of anxiety about whether this pain they have has to do with their heart,” said Dr. Arbind Chaudhary, a cardiologist at Sanford Aberdeen Clinic. “When they come to see me I try to get a sense for how best to serve them.”

Be sensitive to warning signs

So what should you do if you’re not feeling right and you’re wondering if it’s heart-related?

Be sensitive to the warning signs. That’s most important.

Seek medical attention if:

  • You have chest discomfort when you walk or exercise.
  • You have chest pain along with tiredness (fatigue) or shortness of breath.
  • Your resting heart rate is usually faster than 100 beats per minute.
  • You are a young man with erectile dysfunction.

Note: Women may have stomach upset, and older adults may have confusion or fainting. These are all warning signs of a possible heart attack. Symptoms are not the same for everyone.

Symptoms and categories

The term “cardiovascular disease” is often used to describe many conditions that affect circulation in the body. A glossary:

  • Heart disease happens when blood circulating to the heart muscle is slowed or stopped because of a blocked artery.
  • Heart failure happens when the heart loses its ability to pump blood as it should. It can be caused by a number of factors. These include damage to the heart or blocked arteries and high blood pressure.
  • Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. This is the most common type often because of a blood clot or blockages within arteries.
  • Peripheral arterial disease consists of blockages in the arteries to the legs, feet, arms and stomach.

Keep it simple

Weaving through all the possible causes and symptoms can be unnerving but there is no reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.

“With heart signs and symptoms, most of them are related to activities,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “The most common symptom is chest pain. One of the things that really worry us from a doctor’s standpoint is when symptoms wake someone up from sleep. It’s 4 or 5 a.m. and they wake up with this chest pain, pressure or heaviness.”

Combined with sweating or nausea, it’s definitely a “red flag” according to Dr. Chaudhary.

“These symptoms do not fit into any pattern — when they can’t explain why they are feeling this way — it’s time to call 911,” Dr. Chaudhary said.

Stopping it before it starts

The partnership with your providers on heart health care ideally happens before any symptoms would arrive. Risk factors like family history and age — two things a patient has no control over — can make one more susceptible to heart disease. There are other factors, however, that a patient can use to minimize their risks.

“A change in lifestyle can definitely help,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “That means eating less red meat, eating more greens and vegetables. If you’re eating meat, fish is better than red meat and lean chicken is also better.”

While most people are familiar with the basics in reducing the risk of heart issues, they bear repeating. You can ask your health care provider to help you:

  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Control your blood pressure
  • Improve your cholesterol

“Diet and regular exercising are very important parts of reducing risk,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “The usual recommendations for exercising is 30 minutes of leisure activities five days a week. Moderate intensity is fine. I would tell people, however, not to start moderate intensity on Day 1. Start slow and build up to it.”

From the patient’s side of it, a lot of the lifestyle decisions are not real complicated. And, hearteningly, adjusting to healthier habits can have a significant effect.

“By exercising and improving your diet, you’re helping your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure get better – you’re on your way to taking care of half your problems,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “By monitoring those factors and treating them so that you can hit adequate target numbers, you can go a long way toward preventing a heart blockage in the future.”

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Posted In Healthy Living, Heart, Symptom Management, Vascular

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