Five Subtle Signs of a Heart Problem
Given your heart works 24/7/365 to supply blood and oxygen to your entire body, you’d think it would be easy to recognize when it’s not performing well. However, that’s not always the case.
Sure, we all know the classic signs of a heart attack—tightness, pressure, or pain in the chest and radiating pain in the left arm—but there are other, subtler signs that can also indicate a problem. Because they’re not as common or well recognized as the classic signs, these symptoms are often overlooked or dismissed. Interestingly, it’s women who typically present with lesser-recognized symptoms which often leads to delayed diagnosis. In the best-case scenario, this simply means a delay in getting care. In the worst case, the failure to connect the symptoms to a heart issue can be fatal.
Here’s a look at five unusual signs of heart trouble that should never be ignored:
Jaw pain: Sometimes described as feeling like a bad toothache, jaw pain from a heart attack can be intense enough to wake someone from sleep. The pain, which radiates up from the heart, may also be experienced in the neck and/or shoulder.
Sudden, unexplained fatigue: When your heart isn’t pumping oxygen efficiently through your system, shortness of breath and a kind of ‘wiped out’ fatigue can occur. Even simple tasks, such as climbing stairs, walking the dog, or carrying groceries, may leave you feeling exhausted and drained.
Swollen ankles and feet: When blood flow throughout your body drops due to heart failure, your kidneys may step in and try to increase overall blood volume by signaling your body to retain fluid and sodium. That excess fluid often pools in the feet and ankles leading to swelling —the kind that leaves an indentation if you press your finger into it—and discomfort.
Unexplained dizziness or lightheadedness: A drop in blood pressure brought on by a poorly performing heart can lead to a sudden feeling of lightheadedness or feeling unsteady on your feet.
A cold sweat: If you experience sweating or clammy skin at any time of the night or day—especially if you aren’t exercising or being active—it could be an early warning sign of heart problems.
While on their own these symptoms don’t always point to heart trouble, it’s never a mistake to get it checked out. This is especially true if:
- You have a personal or family history of heart disease
- You experience one or more of the noted symptoms at the same time
- Symptoms come on with activity and resolve when you rest
- Your risk for heart disease is higher than average due to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, or smoking
Scott Rogge, MD is a board-certified specialist at SVMC Cardiology.