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Signs of an Unhealthy Heart and What to Do About Them

May 10, 2022
Illustration of a heart shape with a pulse trace

Heart disease affects millions of Americans for a variety of reasons. Knowing their level of risk and being able to identify the possible symptoms of cardiovascular disease can help ensure patients receive prompt care when it is needed most. Richmond University Medical Center provides cardiovascular services and other medical care in Staten Island, NY. Here, we outline some of the risk factors for heart disease and the telltale signs to look out for.

Chest Discomfort

For some patients, symptoms present as chest pain or discomfort. When the heart strains to function normally, it can sometimes be so intense that pain is felt across the chest. The condition may be diagnosed as angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease, which is the discomfort associated with irregular or interrupted blood flow to the heart. For some patients, this sensation is characterized as:

  • Burning
  • Fullness
  • Pressure
  • Tightness

Also, it can be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

In some cases, a sharp pain is felt in the shoulder as well. While shoulder pain does not always indicate a heart issue, it can be a sign of heart problems if the sensation is a gradual buildup of pain.

Heart Palpitations

If it feels like the heart flutters or skips a beat, it may be a sign the patient has arrhythmia. This is a common feeling that may occur from time to time, but persistence may indicate an issue. Arrhythmia is characterized as an irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm, and it may signal that the patient has one of the following conditions:

  • Atrial fibrillation (A-fib)
  • Atrial flutter
  • Premature ventricular contractions
  • A delay or blockage in electrical impulses

Other symptoms of arrhythmias may include:

  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slower heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

Symptoms Masked as Stomach Issues

A heart attack most often is associated with chest pain and arm numbness or tingling. However, many patients are unaware that a heart attack can yield different symptoms for different people – and this is especially true for women. The following symptoms may indicate the patient is having a heart attack:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Back, jaw, or throat discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Extreme weakness

Usually starting mild and progressing in severity, symptoms like these typically last 30 minutes or more and are unaffected by rest or medications. For any patient who thinks they are experiencing a heart attack, it is important to dial 911 and seek immediate emergency services.

Unexplained Exhaustion

If walking up the stairs or taking care of routine housekeeping tasks yields unexplained, sudden fatigue, it may be an indication of heart disease. Fatigue due to mild physical activity can stem from a variety of issues, but it may be due to a heart condition if the onset is abrupt and unexpected. In some cases, extreme exhaustion or weakness can last for days. Patients must inform their primary care provider of these changes, so they can be screened for heart disease and other issues.

Chronic Cough

Persistent coughing is not always an indicator of an unhealthy heart, but it could be for some patients. It is most commonly associated with the flu, bronchitis, or a respiratory condition. However, it could be a sign of heart failure for patients who are at risk. This may be especially true if the cough is accompanied by shortness of breath and mucus. If the heart is unable to pump efficiently, fluid may infiltrate the lungs and cause these symptoms.

Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

There are several risk factors for heart disease, some of which can be modified with healthy lifestyle changes. Other risk factors cannot be changed but knowing them can help patients do the best they can to take the proper precautions throughout their lifetime. Patients may be at increased risk for heart disease if any one of the following applies:

  • Advanced age
  • Male gender
  • Genetics
  • Tobacco usage
  • Excessive alcohol usage
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet

The greater the number and intensity of these risk factors, the higher the chances are of developing cardiovascular issues down the road. Patients need to stay on top of their health and consult a physician as questions or concerns arise.

For comprehensive care, turn to the cardiology physicians, nurses, and technicians at Richmond University Medical Center. The team can pinpoint issues, diagnose conditions, and help patients find meaningful ways to maintain a healthy heart. To learn more information about our inpatient and outpatient services, contact us today.