When it comes to health, particularly heart health, typically all we’re watching out for are the sharp, obvious pains of serious heart trouble. However, heart disease is called the “silent killer” for a reason. Even if all seems well, it can sneak up on you; some factors, such as genetics, may be stacked against you. However, there are a number of lifestyle choices you can make to protect yourself from cardiovascular disease. Below are some signs and symptoms of heart disease, as well as changes you can make to improve your health.
While it is certainly not the only indicator, chest pain is a rather obvious symptom of heart trouble, and probably the sign most recognized when it comes to an impending heart attack. If you start having chest pains, particularly those that are quite sudden and sharp, it’s time to dial 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital. Keep in mind that it’s not just sudden chest pain you should be wary of. If you have any chronic or long-term chest discomfort, this is also worth investigating, so don’t hesitate to see your doctor about it.
You can’t mention chest pain and heart trouble without considering arm pain as well. Generally, arm pain is a side effect of chest pain, as the pain will radiate out into the left arm and sometimes even into the throat or jaw. Because arm pain can have many causes, it is not always associated with heart trouble. However, if a shooting pain in the arm is accompanied by other symptoms indicating heart trouble, or you tend to experience some of the other symptoms on this list, you need to seek medical attention immediately.
We’ve all had that feeling: you’ve been sitting for a while, and then you suddenly get up to do something and you’re overcome by a few seconds of dizziness. It happens to all of us, and believe it or not, it’s completely normal; a drop in blood pressure that comes with sudden changes in elevation. However, if you find yourself having frequent dizzy spells, particularly after mild exertion, or even simple things like standing up, and that dizziness persists for more than just a few seconds, then you may have heart trouble flying under the radar. This is definitely the case if you have other symptoms.
Nobody enjoys putting up with a snoring bedmate. However, if your partner is sawing logs every night, there could be more at stake than a good night’s rest for either of you. This is because snoring is often a sign of a serious condition known as sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common kind, is often indicated by snoring, and occurs when the throat muscles relax and the throat falls in on itself, blocking airflow. Ultimately it means that there isn’t enough oxygen getting to the brain. Sleep apnea also raises blood pressure, which increases the odds of heart trouble.
As you might expect, if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you’re not going to have much energy during the day either. However, fatigue can still occur even if you get regular sleep. Ultimately, chronic fatigue is generally a sign that your heart isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to function properly. This may be a result of plaque buildup in the arteries, which also cause high blood pressure. All of these are serious indicators of health trouble. If more sleep doesn’t give you more energy, it’s time to get checked out.
In today’s fast-paced world, we’re always trying to squeeze a lot from a little. We’ve all heard the advice to get 8 hours of sleep nightly (7 is as good or better in some cases), but realistically, most Americans get less than that for a number of reasons. Missing out on that shuteye can be disastrous for heart health. For starters, it is when you sleep that your hardest working organs like the heart and lungs get a chance to rest by working at a slower rate. Furthermore, a lack of sleep can lead to irritability and stress in the waking hours.
You’ve probably heard terms like “blowing a gasket” before. There’s actually a reason for them. Stress kills. Literally. It will raise your blood pressure and indirectly exacerbate other conditions. For example, the stress hormone cortisol can lead your body to hold on to fat, which promotes obesity. This is especially dangerous for those who binge eat when they are stressed, or those who practice other unhealthy habits. If you find yourself stressed all the time, see if you can find ways to simplify your life. You may also want to get into exercising; not only can it de-stress you, but it can have other beneficial effects.
As mentioned earlier, exercise can enhance your health in a number of ways. Believe it or not, exercising regularly gives you more energy. It also enhances cognitive function, burns fat, improves lung capacity, and reduces blood pressure. As you can imagine, a lack of exercise does the opposite. A sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity, along with hardening of the arteries. It may also lead to shortness of breath and a general lack of energy, the perfect storm for heart trouble. Commit to getting at least a little exercise every day; even walking is enough to get started.
Obesity has been mentioned in a few other points; this is because it plays a subtle but significant role in heart trouble (and other health problems). What makes obesity such a concern is the fact that it exacerbates other conditions. Extra weight puts more stress on the joints, for example. It can also contribute to inflammation and increases the chance of developing diabetes. Additionally, excess weight strains the heart and is generally accompanied by high cholesterol and blood pressure (which all exacerbate one another). If you’re obese or overweight, try to exercise more and make changes to your diet.
When it comes to eating healthy, you may be wondering where to start. Generally, a colorful plate makes more a more balanced diet. The body needs a variety of nutrients, many of which are only found at significant levels in fruits and vegetables. Fruits, for example, tend to be high in fiber and natural sugars. Certain vegetables are high in various minerals, such as calcium, zinc, and magnesium. Furthermore, potassium is an important mineral found in many fruits and vegetables. It protects the body from cardiovascular disease by making the blood vessels more supple and flexible, which reduces blood pressure.
While sugar is necessary for the body in small amounts, too much can easily spell trouble. For starters, high amounts of sugar add empty calories, leading to obesity and potentially diabetes. As such, extra sugar can contribute to higher blood pressure as well as heart disease, something that has been backed by research. It’s harder than you think to avoid added sugars, as they are present in a lot of dessert items, but also juices and snacks. Consider cinnamon as an alternative sweetener, and eat sweet snacks and desserts in moderation.
Sugar is not the only substance you’ll need to cut back on. Sodium, found in salt, is also harmful to your health when consumed in excess. Found as a preservative in frozen foods, meats, and other processed foods, sodium can dehydrate you, decreasing organ function. Furthermore, salt stiffens the arteries, making them more resistant to blood flow. This makes the heart work harder, which raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cut down on your sodium intake by eating more fresh foods and include potassium in your diet, as it counteracts the effects of sodium.
When it comes to excess salt, fewer places have as much of it as red meat. Generally, salt is used as a preservative, and it helps keep the meat from discoloring as well. As mentioned previously, salt can drive up your blood pressure and put you at risk for cardiovascular disease. However, red meat is also dangerous for a number of other reasons. For example, there are carcinogens in processed meats due to the smoking process. Red meat can also cause a rise in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), which can clog your arteries and increase the chances of a heart attack.
Red meat is not the only thing you should be cutting back on. Alcohol can likewise cause problems in excess. Occasional drinks (no more than two per day for men, and no more than one per day for women) don’t significantly impact health. However, overindulging, particularly on a frequent basis, can lead to trouble. Alcohol increases blood pressure, and depending on what you drink, may bring a whole lot of added sugar into the mix. This is to say nothing of the poor decision making that comes with drinking, which might lead you to make other decisions that are bad for your health.
On top of all the respiratory problems associated with smoking, it is another vice that may cause you heart trouble. This is because of the way that smoke interferes with red blood cell function, preventing your blood cells from carrying oxygen to the rest of your body. Furthermore, smoking increases your blood pressure, as the chemicals in cigarettes cause plaque to build up in your arteries. Speaking of chemicals, cigarettes also have a number of ingredients with carcinogenic properties. The good news is that the body recovers fairly quickly after the cessation of smoking; just don’t wait too long to kick the habit.
Nausea is the sort of problem that creeps up on you. It’s also the sort of symptom that has several causes, so it’s easy to write off as something less serious than heart trouble. However, sometimes nausea is among the warning signs of serious cardiovascular issues; what’s important is to take stock of all the signs. For example, if the nausea is accompanied by sudden anxiety or pain, particularly in the chest, arm, and neck, and you feel dizzy as well, then that’s worth getting checked out. This is especially the case if these symptoms are frequent or long-lasting.
When you think of pain associated with heart attacks, chances are good that the stomach doesn’t come to mind. However, like nausea, stomach pain may be an indicator of something more serious. A loss of appetite is yet another seemingly minor symptom that may also occur; such symptoms arise when the heart is struggling because sometimes fluid will end up in the abdominal cavity, putting pressure on the stomach. Even if it’s not heart trouble, stomach pains can still be serious, so if you’re experiencing them often, see a doctor.
Believe it or not, heartburn typically has very little to do with the heart. That said, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any correlation with heart attacks. Heartburn is typically a problem with the digestive, rather than the cardiovascular, system, typically occurring when stomach acid ends up where it doesn’t belong (like the esophagus). It’s called heartburn because of the pain associated with the experience; it’s not unlike pain from angina or heart attacks. This similar feeling of pain sometimes leads people to mistake one condition for the other. If you have frequent heartburn, make sure it’s only heartburn, and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.
We think of pain as a serious and severe warning that something is very wrong. Sometimes the most serious conditions have very few symptoms, or those that seem benign. Such is the case with indigestion and associated pains. Sometimes heart pain is not a sharp, stabbing, or even squeezing pressure. Sometimes it feels more like bloating and other dull discomfort. As with the other digestive symptoms, take stock of any other weird occurrences or factors, such as stress, high blood pressure, pain, etc. Indigestion may be a sign of other potentially serious illnesses.