It’s easy to assume that if you’re in pretty good shape, work out regularly, and eat well, your heart is in great shape. You’ve never had a heart attack, and you may never have been grossly overweight in your entire life. Even without these symptoms, though, your heart may be struggling and trying to tell you so through other, seemingly unrelated symptoms. While you don’t need to run to the doctor every time you’re nauseous or feeling a little under the weather, it’s a good idea to know what signs of common heart problems are so that you can detect them and cut off heart problems in the bud.
Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease is an overarching name for a bunch of different problems that can occur with the heart valves. Sometimes, minor heart valve problems can cause a host of symptoms, and major heart valve issues can cause no symptoms at all. It’s funny that way. But, if you’re experiencing several of these symptoms on a regular basis, you may need to check with your doctor to see if you may have a heart valve problem.
- Weakness or dizziness on a regular basis
- Pressure or discomfort in your chest, especially during activity or when first heading out into the cold
- Palpitations, including a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, or skipped heartbeats
- Shortness of breath or difficulty catching your breath, particularly with exercise or when lying flat on your back
Heart Muscle Disease
The disease of the heart muscle, called cardiomyopathy, is surprisingly common, and many people go through their entire life without noticing it, really. If you do have symptoms of cardiomyopathy, they might include some of the following:
- Swelling in your feet and legs
- Frequent fatigue and tiredness
- Heart palpitations, which might leave you with a fluttering feeling in the heart
- Chest pain or pressure, particularly when exercising, when resting, or after meals
Sometimes, certain coronary diseases are actually hidden. Patients may have symptoms of coronary disease but not have any seeable blockages on X-rays and angiograms. This hidden killer is more common in women, and it can eventually cause heart attacks. Basically, women often get fatty deposits on the coronary arteries as well as other, smaller blood vessels leading to the heart. The buildup can cause oxygen to get blocked off from the heart, even when the blood vessels look relatively clear. Symptoms of this problem may include:
- Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
Heart disease is the leading killer of women over the age of twenty-five in the United States. In 2003, heart problems caused about 910,600 deaths of men and women alike. Even though overall death rates from coronary disease are declining because doctors are getting better at treating the problem, the onus is still on patients to do what it takes to keep their hearts in good shape.
If you think you might have a heart problem, see your doctor right away, since, as you can see, the symptoms for many common heart issues are similar. Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms, though, you should be proactive in helping your heart stay healthy, since you can’t be healthy in general unless you have a healthy heart. Here are some of the main things you can do to keep your heart in tip-top shape:
- Maintain a healthy weight. You don’t have to look like a runway model to have a healthy heart, but studies have certainly proven that keeping a weight that’s healthy for your height and build is key to having a healthy heart.
- Stay in shape. This is actually different from maintaining a healthy weight. Your weight can be controlled by diet alone, but to stay in shape, you need to exercise. Shoot for at least thirty minutes to an hour of cardiovascular exercise each day to keep your heart muscle in good shape.
- Keep your cholesterol low. Again, even if you maintain a healthy weight, high cholesterol can be an issue. To keep your cholesterol low, enjoy meat in smaller portions, and make sure your dinner plate always features vegetables and whole grains.
- Stop smoking. In one study, a female smoker had a heart disease risk of a woman about ninety pounds over her weight! Obviously, smoking is a huge cause of heart problems, and the sooner you quit, the better.
- Control diabetes. Just like you can have high cholesterol and be in good shape, you can have diabetes and be in good shape, too. Keeping diabetes under control will keep your heart in better shape. Talk to your doctor about what, exactly, you can be doing to keep your diabetes in check through diet, exercise, and, possibly, medication.
Abigail Hall is a writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison website for families. On the weekends, Abigail loves to mountain bike and explore the wilderness. On the weekdays, Abigail writes about cash back credit cards.