Ana Cristina Mercedes Germosen, MD
FACC – Cardiovascular Disease
It’s February – American Heart Month – a time when the nation spotlights heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans. You’re probably familiar with the most common symptoms of heart disease. The one that gets the most attention is chest pain (or angina), which can feel like tightness, pressure, aching or pain in your chest, but heart disease can create a wide range of symptoms, some far less common than others. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Struggling To Breathe While Lying Flat
You may find yourself gasping for breath or otherwise struggling to breathe easily while lying down. You might only be able to sleep by propping yourself up with several pillows. This could be related to fluid buildup in your lungs. If your heart isn’t pumping as strongly as it should be, it will have difficulty keeping your blood flowing, allowing more of it to pool. For some people, this condition – known as orthopnea – may be the only symptom of congestive heart failure.
Legs or Hips Hurt While Walking
If your legs feel fine while resting, but then start hurting or cramping when you go for a walk, it could be a sign of congestion or blockage in your arteries. The pain (claudication) is often a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is caused by the buildup of plaque (fats and cholesterol) on artery walls.
The pain occurs when you become active because your muscles can’t get enough oxygen and nutrients from your clogged arteries. The pain then fades away when you rest. People with PAD are at higher risk of congestive heart failure.
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by several things, including diabetes and stress. But it may also be an indicator of heart disease. The root cause is endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the blood vessels have a hard time expanding or contracting the way they’re supposed to. The condition reduces blood flow both to the penis and the heart.
Swollen Feet or Ankles
There are several potential causes for swollen feet and ankles. But when your heart isn’t working as efficiently as it should be, it has difficulty pushing blood throughout your body. This can be problematic for your legs and feet, in particular. The blood moves into them, but your heart isn’t beating strongly enough to push the blood back through your veins.
Some people may feel fine when they get up in the morning. But by the end of the day, their lower legs, ankles and feet become swollen. If the swelling is in only one leg, that may suggest a blood clot or infection. When it’s related to heart failure, the swelling generally occurs in both legs.
Feeling Tired for No Reason
Unexplained fatigue is one of the more common symptoms found in heart disease patients. Maybe you feel exhausted after unloading the dishwasher or walking to the mailbox. It may be related to an obstructed coronary artery, which restricts blood flow to the heart. For women, this is often the first sign of heart trouble.
Waking Up Often at Night To Urinate
It’s not uncommon for aging men (enlarged prostates) and women (incontinence) to wake up more frequently at night to urinate. But it also can be a telltale symptom of heart problems.
It’s somewhat related to swollen feet and ankles – with the weakened heart having trouble pumping blood through your body during the day. At night, while you rest, that blood has an easier time making its way back to the heart. Likewise, the kidneys end up having more fluids to filter, increasing the frequency of urination at night.
Bad breath can be a sign that you have gum disease. And while that doesn’t cause heart disease, there is a well-known correlation between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. People with gum disease have two to three times higher risk of a heart attack.
Unexplained queasiness could be related to your heart’s struggles to pump blood, which causes fluid to build up in your lungs, abdomen and legs. Water retention and bloating may cause you to feel full, less hungry and nauseous.
Yet another side effect of your heart’s diminished strength is fluid buildup in the lungs, a condition called pulmonary edema. This can cause a persistent cough as your body attempts to clear this excess fluid. It’s not uncommon for this type of cough to be diagnosed initially as a respiratory issue. It is more likely to be attributed to a heart problem when accompanied by other symptoms, including shortness of breath and leg swelling.
For more information about the common symptoms of heart disease go to OrlandoHealth.com.