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“Minor” heart symptoms you should never ignore

“I was short of breath. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk. My chest was heavy. It felt like a heavy weight was pressing down on my chest. I was sweating even though the air-conditioner was on. I felt faint and fatigued. Then the pain…oh the pain! I can’t forget that pain. It was raw, deep and intense. It was scary. It still scares me.” Such was the account of a friend who suffered an “incident” recently.  She didn’t know it, but she was suffering a “petit mal” or “little death”. In common parlance she was having a heart attack. How many times have you felt similar symptoms? Never, once, twice, occasionally?

A skipped heartbeat, the feeling of fish flopping around in your chest, a racing heart rate — these are all the physical feelings of atrial fibrillation — simply put, the most common type of heart rhythm disorder. Millions of Nigerians suffer from atrial fibrillation — the type of irregular heartbeat that occurs when the upper chambers of the person’s heart (the atria) quiver out of rhythm with the lower chambers.

People can develop an abnormal heart rhythm at any age, but the risk for atrial fibrillation increases as one gets older. The number of people affected by this disorder is actually expected to double.A warning sign is indication that something is amiss with your heart. Heart disease kills more men and women than all forms of cancer combined.

Why is heart disease so deadly?

Many people are slow to seek help when symptoms arise. Yes, someone gripped by sudden chest pain probably knows to call for help. But heart symptoms aren’t always intense or obvious, and they vary from person to person and according to gender. First episodes of atrial fibrillation may feel quite different from having a heart attack, so many people pass it off as nothing serious. But, just because the disorder lacks the chest-clutching drama of a coronary, doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.

Signals of trouble Anxiety

Heart attack can cause intense anxiety or a fear of death. Heart attack survivors often talk about having experienced a sense of “impending doom.”

Chest discomfort

Pain in the chest is the classic symptom of heart attack, and the No. 1 symptom doctors typically look for. But not all heart attacks cause chest pain. Heart-related chest pain is often centered under the breastbone, perhaps a little to the left of center. The pain has been likened to “an elephant sitting on the chest,” but it can also be an uncomfortable sensation of pressure, squeezing, or fullness.

Cough

Persistent coughing or wheezing can be a symptom of heart failure — a result of fluid accumulation in the lungs. In some cases, people with heart failure cough up bloody phlegm.

Dizziness

Heart attacks can cause lightheadedness and loss of consciousness. So can potentially dangerous heart rhythm abnormalities known as arrhythmias.

Fatigue

Especially among women, unusual fatigue can occur during a heart attack as well as in the days and weeks leading up to one. And feeling tired all the time may be a symptom of heart failure. You can also feel tired or fatigued for other reasons. Wasting time is dangerous.

Nausea or lack of appetite

It’s not uncommon for people to feel sick to their stomach or throw up during a heart attack. And abdominal swelling associated with heart failure can interfere with appetite.

Pain in other parts of the body

In many heart attacks, pain begins in the chest and spreads to the shoulders, arms, elbows, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen. But sometimes there is no chest pain — just pain in these other body areas. The pain might come and go. Men having a heart attack often feel pain in the left arm. In women, the pain is more likely to be felt in both arms, or between the shoulder blades.

Rapid or irregular pulse

Doctors say that there’s nothing worrisome about an occasional skipped heartbeat. But a rapid or irregular pulse — especially when accompanied by weakness, dizziness, or shortness of breath — can be evidence of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia. Left untreated, some arrhythmias can lead to stroke, heart failure, or sudden death.

Shortness of breath

People who feel winded at rest or with minimal exertion might have a pulmonary condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But breathlessness could also indicate a heart attack or heart failure. Sometimes people having a heart attack don’t have chest pressure or pain but feel extremely short of breath,” It’s like they’ve just run a marathon when they haven’t even moved. During a heart attack, shortness of breath often accompanies chest discomfort, but it can also occur before or without chest discomfort.

Sweating

Breaking out in a cold sweat is a common symptom of heart attack. You might just be sitting in a chair when all of a sudden you are really sweating like you had just worked out.

Swelling

Heart failure can cause fluid to accumulate in the body. This can cause swelling (often in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen) as well as sudden weight gain and sometimes a loss of appetite.

Weakness

In the days leading up to a heart attack, as well as during one, some people experience severe, unexplained weakness.

This information could save your life

Never ignore the signs

It  can be hard to make sense of heart symptoms, so never ignore possible warning signs, waiting to see if they go away, or being quick to blame them on heartburn, muscle soreness, or other less serious, non-cardiac causes.

This is especially true for men and people over 65, as well as for people with other cardiac risk factors, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, obesity, smoking, diabetes, or a family history of heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the higher the likelihood that a symptom means something is going on with your heart.

Putting off treatment for other medical problems might not be so bad, but a serious heart problem can mean sudden death. It’s better to go in and get it evaluated than to be dead.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.