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Home > Your Heart & Conditions > Warning Signs

What Your Heart Is Telling You

Heart problems can take you by surprise. Suddenly, you're hunched over with chest pressure, pain, or even a heart attack. These are frightening symptoms of coronary artery disease (sometimes called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries). This disease means that your heart isn't getting enough blood. The good news is that surgery and basic lifestyle changes can give your heart another chance.

Warning Signs of Coronary Artery Disease

First you must be aware that most patients with heart disease usually do not have symptoms with ordinary activities until their disease is fairly advanced. When they first sense something is wrong, it may not be signaled by chest pain. In fact, many patients insist that they do not have pain. They experience a tightness, heaviness, or an uncomfortable feeling in their chest. Sometimes the discomfort will radiate to the neck, jaw, left shoulder, or down the inner side of the left arm and forearm.

Angina

You're probably familiar with angina, one of the most common symptoms of coronary artery disease. Angina is a feeling that can range from numbness or pressure to severe pain in your chest, arms, jaw, throat, or upper back. You might even confuse angina with heartburn. Sometimes you have no symptoms of coronary artery disease at all until you're struck by a heart attack. In any case, it's time to do something about your heart problem.

As the individual becomes familiar with the conditions which elicit these feelings, he subconsciously avoids the situations that bring them on. Consequently, when asked if he has any symptoms, the customary answer is "No." It is advisable not to wait until chest pain or discomfort becomes severe before you consult a physician concerning these symptoms.

Ischemia

Another set of symptoms associated with coronary artery disease may be caused by a condition called ischemia. Ischemia occurs when the narrowed coronary artery may reach a point where it cannot supply enough oxygen-rich blood to meet your heart's needs. Your heart muscle begins to become "starved" for oxygen. Symptoms associated ischemia include:
 

  • shortness of breath - when doing normal daily activities or lying down flat in bed. You may need to sleep propped up on a few pillows to breathe easier
  • palpitations - skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in your chest
  • weakness or dizziness - feels like passing out
  • chest discomfort - a pain or pressure lasting a few seconds or for a few hours
  • tachycardia - a faster heart beat at rest (over 100 beats/minute)
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • extreme weakness

Symptoms caused by a Ischemia is more likely to occur when the heart demands extra oxygen. These conditions known as the Four E's occur most commonly during Exertion (activity), Eating, Excitement and Exposure to cold. . However, coronary artery disease can progress to a point where ischemia occurs even while you rest. Ischemia may be present without any warning symptoms. This is called "silent ischemia."

Warning Signs of Heart Valve Disease

Your heart valves are doorways that open and close to let blood move between the chambers of your heart. Problems with your heart valves can mean that blood doesn't flow through your heart and to your body the way it should. This can keep you from feeling your best. Fortunately, valve surgery may help fix a heart valve problem so your heart can work better.

If you have heart valve trouble, you may experience one or more of the following:

  • shortness of breath - when doing normal daily activities or lying down flat in bed. You may need to sleep propped up on a few pillows to breathe easier
  • palpitations - skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in your chest
  • weakness or dizziness - feels like passing out
  • quick weight gain - three pounds in one day is possible
  • edema - swelling in your ankles, feet or abdomen
  • chest discomfort - a pain or pressure lasting a few seconds or for a few hours

Symptoms can occur quickly if your valve disease is severe and comes on suddenly. If your disease develops slowly and your heart has time to adjust, you may barely notice your symptoms. The exception is mitral valve prolapse (MVP), where symptoms are common, but may not reflect the severity of your valve disease.

 
 

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