Seek medical help immediately if you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms.
Frequent unusual fatigue and lethargy may be a sign of an early onset of heart disease. This happens as the heart is unable to pump enough blood for the body’s needs, including the brain or muscle. Do see a cardiologist if you often feel tired for no reason, or if you feel exhausted doing activities that were not tiring for you in the past.
- Shortness of breath (Dyspnea)
Shortness of breath is easy to dismiss as people who do not work out regularly tend to experience this condition. However, it can be a sign of heart disease if your regular daily activities, like climbing a short flight of stairs, leaves you breathless. Cardiovascular-related shortness of breath is often caused by coronary artery disease, a weak heart (cardiomyopathy), pericardial disease, heart valve disease and cardiac arrhythmias.
- Chest discomfort
Chest discomfort is an alarming symptom as it could signal a severe blockage of blood supply to the heart (coronary artery disease). Also known as angina, it is usually described as a feeling of tightness, squeezing, a heavy sensation or pressure on the chest, front of neck, upper back or upper arms. Symptoms may improve or resolve with rest, and begin or worsen with stress.
In more severe angina, the onset of discomfort is sudden, occurring at rest or during minimal stress, and can persist for hours or up to an entire day, even at rest. For some, symptoms might subside and arise. This is typical of heart attacks caused by a near-total blockage of blood flow to the heart. As symptoms indicate a medical emergency, you should head to the nearest accident and emergency department immediately.
- Discomfort in unexpected areas
Discomfort related to heart diseases can occur in other parts of the body too. It can manifest as discomfort in the upper abdomen, legs (especially calves), arms (especially the left one), front of the neck, lower jaw, and back.
- Unexpected or atypical symptoms
Cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, and swelling are common atypical presentations of heart disease. Perspiration is the body’s normal process of cooling down. But if you are sweating even with minimal exertion, it may be an indicator of an impending heart attack, especially if it occurs with the symptoms described in points (3) and (4).
Isolated nausea without an identifiable cause may signal an impending heart attack – especially for those with major risk factors for heart disease. Swelling can also be a sign of heart failure, as it happens when the heart is unable to keep up with the body’s oxygen demands. Blood flow diminishes and backs up in the veins, leading to fluid accumulation in the ankle, leg, abdominal and groin areas.
- Irregular heartbeat
Also known as palpitations, an irregular heartbeat is a common symptom of heart disease. In some cases, these rapid or unusually strong heartbeats are caused by cardiac arrhythmia, which comes in different types. While an irregular heartbeat may not be significant, this symptom could be caused by atrial fibrillation, and can result in a weak heart (cardiomyopathy).
Thus, palpitations should be reviewed by a cardiologist if they are irregular, rapid, or frequent, and if it causes dizziness or fainting spells.
Fainting, or syncope, is the temporary loss of consciousness and usually related to insufficient blood flow to the brain. Heart-related fainting can be caused by rapid or slow heartbeats, a weakened, enlarged or thickened heart, or a partially blocked or leaky heart valve, among other reasons. Do see a cardiologist if your symptoms are recurrent, or if you have a family history of sudden unexplained death.
When to act
Schedule an early appointment with your cardiologist if you have:
- Symptoms during exertion, even though it goes away with rest.
- Multiple risk factors for heart disease, e.g. family history, or existing medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and high cholesterol.
- Plans to start an exercise regimen, especially if you have symptoms, pre-existing heart disease or risk factors for heart disease.
Thomson Cardiology Centre