7 Heart warning signs not to ignore
Heart health is no joking matter. If you're facing an increased risk of a serious heart condition, you don't have the luxury of turning a blind eye to your problems. Cardiovascular health problems can appear seemingly out of nowhere, making it all the more important that you recognize the symptoms of a condition requiring medical attention.
At the same time, if you're worried about the likelihood of suffering a heart attack, you don't have to sit around and wait for fate to make its decision. For almost every major risk factor affecting your heart health, there are steps you can take to address these risks and improve your cardiovascular health. Here are seven risks and warning signs to keep you vigilant of your heart's health while guiding you toward healthier, heart-happy lifestyle changes.
Smoking stresses the cardiovascular system in many different ways, such as reducing your blood oxygen levels and hardening your arteries. Smoking can also exacerbate a number of risk factors already present in your body, so if you're someone with existing threats to your heart health, smoking can make some or all of them worse. The cardiovascular effects of smoking are so great that even nonsmokers can experience an increased risk of heart issues when exposed to secondhand smoke.
2. High cholesterol
High levels of cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease and other heart conditions. But there are different kinds of cholesterol in your body, and some are more dangerous than others.1 In general, patients should strive for low levels of LDL cholesterol—or "bad" cholesterol—while increasing their body's HDL cholesterol through foods like olive oil, whole grains, avocado, beans, fatty fish, and flax seed.
"Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help counteract the risks of high LDL cholesterol," Parrish Medical Group physician Jibril D. Skaden, MD. "Another important type of fat is triglycerides, which represent the buildup of fat deposits along artery walls. High levels of triglycerides can also increase an individual's risk of a serious heart condition, such as a heart attack or stroke."
3. Chest pains
Chest pains are often an urgent sign that medical attention is needed. This often presents as an early symptom of a heart attack, and it should be taken seriously. Any pain, tightness, or general chest discomfort should be met with quick medical attention. Don't wait for these early signs to worsen into a full-blown heart attack.
4. High blood pressure
When patients have high blood pressure, their hearts are working extra hard to pump blood throughout their body. Over time, this leads to a thickening of the heart muscles, and this thickened muscle can lead to abnormalities in how the heart functions, increasing the risk of heart attack, strokes, heart failure and other life-threatening conditions.
5. Pain or numbness in your extremities
When arteries narrow, and/or when heart pumping performance declines, circulation throughout the body may worsen. This can lead to numbness in your arms and legs, as well as weakness and a sense of coldness. If this develops, have a doctor check your heart to determine whether a circulation issue is to blame. Depending on the severity, a treatment plan may be able to address the underlying cause before more serious complications arise.2
6. Being overweight
Similar to smoking, obesity can exacerbate other risk factors in the body, making the dangers of a heart health condition all the more urgent. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other risk factors can be compounded by the lifestyle habits connected to obesity, and they can increase the likelihood of these risk factors leading to a serious heart emergency.
"The good news for overweight patients is that small strides in weight loss can have a significant impact on heart health," says a Parrish Medical Group physician, Benjamin R. Nettleton, MD. "Research suggests that losing three to five percent of your body weight can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as blood glucose, which can also affect heart health."
7. Shortness of breath
If you're having trouble breathing, don't assume it's a lung issue: Shortness of breath can by a sign of heart disease or a heart attack, reflecting your body's struggles to oxygenate your blood. If you start experiencing shortness of breath, have you or a loved one call 911 immediately. The faster you can address the issue, the better chance you'll have at minimizing the severity of your condition.
By knowing the risk factors as well as the signs of potential heart health issues, individuals at risk for heart issues can make health-conscious lifestyle changes while also remaining alert if serious signs of illness do develop.