Heart disease is a term that describes a group of medical conditions involving disease of the heart or blood vessels. The Mayo Clinic identifies the following conditions as heart disease:
- heart failure
- congenital heart defects
Other diseases of the heart include:
- heart infections
- coronary artery disease
- atrial fibrillation
- heart valve disease
- cardiomegaly, or enlarged heart
- cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle
Chest pain, or angina, is a common symptom of heart disease. Angina will cause you to feel discomfort in your chest. Some people experience tightness or a squeezing sensation around their breastbone. The pain may radiate to the neck, down the arms and stomach, or into the upper back. If you’re very tired or have difficulty catching your breath after minor exertion, you may have symptoms of heart disease. These symptoms typically ease with rest.
Women often experience different symptoms than men. For example, women may have:
- back pain
- jaw pain
- cold sweats
- fainting episodes
Women may not recognize the symptoms of heart disease. This is because their symptoms also occur with other illnesses. Women also tend to have other risk factors, such as depression, stress, and smoking.
The symptoms of heart disease depend on the type of heart problem you have.
Atherosclerosis is a hardening and stiffening of blood vessels due to plaque deposits. The symptoms can include chest pain and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms include:
- unusual pain
- weakness in your arms and legs
These symptoms are due to a lack of blood supply to your extremities.
Arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms, have different symptoms. An arrhythmia may be a heartbeat that’s too fast, too slow, or irregular. It can feel like fluttering, a racing heartbeat, or an unusually slow pulse. An arrhythmia also may cause:
- chest pain
- fainting spells
Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects are heart problems that are present at birth. Doctors usually diagnose them at birth or in early childhood. Sometimes, people don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood, depending on the severity of symptoms. These include:
- shortness of breath
- blue-tinged skin
- tiring easily
- swelling of the extremities
In general, the more serious the congenital defect, the earlier it will show up.
Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes overly thick or stiffens. It has several symptoms that may be difficult to immediately link to heart disease. These symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- swollen lower legs, ankles, or feet
- a pounding or fluttering pulse
The three main types of heart infection are pericarditis, myocarditis, and endocarditis. They affect different parts of the heart and have slightly different symptoms. The symptoms of a heart infection are similar to those of cardiomyopathy, but may also include a fever, a skin rash, or a cough that won’t go away.
Common risk factors for heart disease include:
- being overweight
- being inactive
- eating a high-fat diet
- having diabetes
- having high blood pressure
- having high cholesterol
- having a family history of heart disease
The Centers for Disease Control reports that about 47 percent of Americans have one of the most common risk factors for heart disease, which are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
You should also heed your doctor’s advice if they’ve warned you that you’re at risk for heart disease.
What you can do
It can be difficult to interpret the symptoms on your own. Swollen lower extremities, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and other symptoms can indicate any number of heart issues or other illnesses.
It’s wise to develop a relationship with a doctor who’s familiar with your family and personal history. A doctor who knows your habits and lifestyle will be better able to diagnose your illness. See your doctor before you experience the symptoms of heart disease. Get regular checkups, and listen to your doctor’s advice for living a healthier lifestyle.
In addition to seeing a doctor regularly, you should also make positive changes to your lifestyle. This includes the following:
- Stop smoking.
- Be physically active.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage your stress.