Last month we posted a blog article about heart disease and how it is the leading cause of death in the United States. As stated in that article, we are providing further information that will hopefully educate people about what what the warning signs and symptoms are to be on the lookout for.
In this article we will cover what the warning signs and symptoms are of coronary artery disease, a heart attack, arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat), and atrial fibrillation. Each type of heart disease has different symptoms yet many problems have similar warning signs to look out for.
If your coronary arteries have become clogged and narrowed, they can’t supply enough oxygenated blood to your heart — especially when your heart is beating extra hard during physical activity. You may have this condition, a restriction of blood flow, and not have any symptoms of coronary artery disease. But over time, as the plaques continue to build up in your coronary arteries and you may develop coronary artery disease symptoms.
The following information is from WebMd.
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, or chest pain. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing, or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.
The chest pain of angina usually begins at a low level, then increases over several minutes to a peak. Angina that starts with an activity usually will decrease when the activity is stopped. Chest pain that begins suddenly or lasts only a few seconds is less likely to be angina. Angina usually begins in the chest, but it can also start in or spread to different areas of the body, such as:
- Down the left arm (most common site).
- To the left shoulder.
- To the neck or lower jaw.
- To the mid-back.
- Down the right arm.
Some people may feel tingling or numbness in their arm, hand, or jaw when they have angina.
Other possible symptoms of coronary artery disease:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heart beats, skipped beats, or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
Symptoms of heart attack
Heart attack symptoms in men and women often differ. Men often have the typical type of chest pain that feels like squeezing or pressure. But the pain is more severe than usual and does not go away with rest. Women, older adults, and people with diabetes may have symptoms different from chest pain. These groups of people may have symptoms like breathlessness, heartburn, nausea, fatigue, jaw pain, or back pain.
In one study, many women reported having warning symptoms 1 month before they had a heart attack. These symptoms included unusual fatigue, trouble sleeping, and shortness of breath. Only 30 out of 100 women reported chest pain, which the majority of men report.1
Unfortunately, sometimes a heart attack is the first sign of coronary artery disease. According to the large, 50-year Framingham Heart Study, more than 50 out of 100 men and 63 out of 100 women who died suddenly of coronary artery disease (mostly from heart attack) had no previous symptoms of this disease.2
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
- Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
- Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
- Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
- Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats
During a heart attack, symptoms typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications (medications taken by mouth). Initial symptoms can start as a mild discomfort that progresses to significant pain.
Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a “silent” MI). A silent MI can occur among all people, though it occurs more often among diabetics.
If you think you are having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call for emergency help (dial 911 in most areas). Immediate treatment of a heart attack is very important to lessen the amount of damage to your heart.
Symptoms of Arrhythmias
When symptoms of arrhythmias, or an abnormal heart rhythm, are present, they may include:
- Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or “flip-flops,” or feeling that your heart is “running away”)
- Pounding in your chest
- Dizziness or feeling light-headed
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired)
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of arrhythmia. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart)
- Lack of energy; tired
- Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed)
- Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest)
- Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during activities of daily living)
Atrial fibrillation is often discovered during routine medical checkups because many people do not have symptoms. Others may notice an irregular pulse but do not have other symptoms.
Mild symptoms may develop immediately. More serious problems may develop after the start of atrial fibrillation and over the course of several days. So it is important to identify and treat atrial fibrillation as soon as possible to avoid serious problems.
Serious complications such as a stroke or heart failure may occur before atrial fibrillation is discovered.
Things to Think About
After reading this valuable information from WebMd, you want to think about your current health condition. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or are overweight, you may want to talk to your doctor as these are risk factors for coronary artery disease. Your doctor will need to know if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and how often. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop you from getting coronary artery disease or help stop the progression of it and help prevent a heart attack. Educate yourself in order to help protect yourself and possibly those around you.
Be on the lookout for our next “healthy heart” article which will discuss some of the health conditions that can lead to coronary artery disease and what steps we can take to work on having a healthy lifestyle and a stronger heart.
- McSweeney JC, et al. (2003). Women’s early warning symptoms of acute myocardial infarction. Circulation, 108(21): 2619–2623.
- American Heart Association (2006). Heart disease and stroke statistics-2006 update. Circulation, 113(6): e85–e151.