Surprising Signs of Heart Disease Experts Warn About

·6 min read

Without a healthy heart, chances are you're not going to have a long lifespan. Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States for men and women, and while there are many signs that indicate you need to take better care of your heart, there's also several not so obvious symptoms that paying attention to could mean a difference between life and death. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with several cardiologists who explain unknown signs of heart disease to know about. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Why Do So Many People Have Heart Disease?

Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.
Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.

Dr. Adedapo Iluyomade, preventive cardiologist at Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac&Vascular Institute says, "Heart Disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, and this persists due to uncontrolled risk factors and health disparities. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and physical inactivity are rampant in our country, with estimates of greater than 50 percent of the population being obese and/or having hypertension by 2030. In addition to this, there are millions of Americans who experience heart disease at higher levels than their neighbors due to numerous social determinants of health. These include poor access to quality healthcare, food insecurity, economic instability, lack of quality education as well as neighborhood/environmental challenges."

Dr. Tarak Rambhatla, clinical cardiologist at Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac&Vascular Institute adds, "Many people have heart disease mostly because of untreated risk factors that have progressed to develop heart disease. So, people have a genetic predisposition that causes heart disease without significant traditional risk factors."  

2

Heartburn

Woman touching her heart while sitting at the table in her big office.
Woman touching her heart while sitting at the table in her big office.

Dr. Iluyomade explains, "It is estimated that nearly 50% of women who present with indigestion as the primary symptom of having a heart attack are dismissed. It's important to seek medical attention if you experience severe or sudden heartburn that is associated with shortness of breath, cold sweats or physical exertion. Here are some differentiating signs to help you determine whether it is heartburn or possibly a heart attack:

Heart attack 

– Tightness, pressure, squeezing, stabbing, or dull pain, most often in the center of the chest

– Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, or arms

– Irregular or rapid heartbeat

– Cold sweat or clammy skin

– Lightheadedness, weakness, or dizziness

– Shortness of breath

– Nausea, indigestion, and sometimes vomiting

– The appearance of symptoms with physical exertion or extreme stress 

Heartburn (Indigestion or reflux)

– Burning chest pain that begins at the breastbone

– Pain that moves up toward your throat but doesn't typically radiate to your shoulders, neck, or arms

– Sensation that food is coming back into your mouth

-Bitter or acidic taste at the back of your throat

-Pain that worsens when you lie down or bend over

-The appearance of symptoms after a large or spicy meal"

3

Pregnancy-Related Complications

woman with headache lying on sofa, touching her belly and forehead
woman with headache lying on sofa, touching her belly and forehead

​​Dr. Paula Montana De La Cadena, cardiologist at Baptist Health's Miami Cardiac&Vascular Institute shares, "Pregnancy-related complications, such as high blood pressure (gestational hypertension), preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, small-for-gestational-age delivery, pregnancy loss or placental abruption could be an unknown sign of heart disease. While researchers are still trying to understand the connection between pregnancy complications and heart disease, any woman is at risk for heart disease if she has pregnancy complications. Years later, women may not connect the dots because no one emphasized to them that they need to continue to be monitored. But, even if things get better after the pregnancy, you need to keep an eye on your health and get regular check-ups. It's important for women and their doctors to be aware of the risk. Many healthcare providers don't ask about past pregnancies, so women should alert their physicians if they have experienced these problems. I also recommend that women who have pregnancy complications be screened more closely for hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. It's also important to note that it can take years for a cardiovascular condition to develop, which is even more reason why women should proactively pay attention to their health. Women tend to be in denial when they see their numbers start to go up for blood pressure or cholesterol, especially if they are only in their 30s and 40s. They blame it on stress. They tend to find excuses for their results, which is unfortunate because they are at an age when they could really benefit from preventive measures."

4

Decreased Exercise Tolerance

Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run
Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Dr. Rambhatla says, "Earliest indicators that someone may have a heart attack are the presence of new symptoms or worsening symptoms in an unstable pattern. For example, new onset chest pain or exertional symptoms, or a change in chronic symptoms. For example, experiencing more severe chest pain with the same level of exertion or a decrease in exercise capacity can be a warning sign for an unstable situation."

5

Light-Headedness, Dizziness, Syncope (Passing Out)

Woman fainted
Woman fainted

According to Dr. Rambhatla, "Women can present differently than men and with more subtle and atypical symptoms, so heightened awareness is very important — especially in women with risk factors for heart disease. Symptoms of a heart attack in a woman can include nausea, heartburn, shortness of breath, sweating, lightheadedness, unusual fatigue, discomfort in jaw/neck/abdomen/upper shoulders. If chest pain is present, it can often be less severe than in men and is not always the classic chest pain radiating down the left arm."

6

How Can People Help Prevent Heart Disease

Dr. Iluyomade states, "The American Heart Association has defined ideal cardiovascular health based on seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes: stop smoking, increase physical activity, lose weight, eat a nutrient-rich and balanced diet, reduce blood sugar/glucose, control cholesterol and manage blood pressure. People with at least five out of seven ideal metrics had a 78% reduced risk for heart-related death compared to people with no ideal metrics."

Dr. Rambhatla says, "The best way to prevent heart disease is aggressive primary prevention.  This means preventing disease before it develops.  The best way to do this is to know your numbers (lipid panel, HbA1c (marker of sugar control over a 3-month period), BP via ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, and BMI body mass index).  Any abnormality of these should be assessed by a physician and treated either medically or with lifestyle changes (diet Mediterranean diet/dash diet and exercise). Additionally, a CT Calcium score is helpful to further guide primary preventive strategies to decide if a person would benefit from lipid-lowering therapy."

7

See Your Doctor Annually, Even If You're Healthy

woman consulting with female doctor
woman consulting with female doctor

Dr. Rambhatla reminds us to, "Please see your doctor annually, know your numbers, and start prevention now to avoid having to treat the disease after it starts. Even if we feel healthy now, the point of this is prevention and to avoid a heart attack in the next 10-20 years, because if we have underlying cardiac risk factors that we don't realize, those can progress to real disease in 10-15 years. It's much better to address it now and if no risk factors are found, it's important to be reassessed every few years because our body changes as we age and sometimes heart disease or risk factors go undiagnosed until it's too late."

Dr. Iluyomade adds, "It's extremely important to begin your fight against heart disease with preventive care. Find a primary care doctor, know your health information/data, practice healthy living and educate yourself about what your personal risk is for developing heart disease."