If something went wrong with your heart, would you know it?
Not all heart problems come with clear warning signs. There is not always an alarming chest clutch followed by a fall to the floor like you see in movies. Some heart symptoms don’t even happen in your chest, and it’s not always easy to tell what’s going on.
Atherosclerosis is dangerous because it's so stealthy. This process of narrowing and hardening of the arteries occurs over decades, usually without any symptoms.
Heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. But diseases caused by atherosclerosis also lead to chronic pain, kidney failure, blindness, and even impotence.
It's time to shine some light on these hidden complications of atherosclerosis -- and to learn how to...
"If you're not sure, get it checked out," says Charles Chambers, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute.
That’s especially true if you are 60 or older, are overweight, or have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, says Vincent Bufalino, MD, an American Heart Association spokesman. "The more risk factors you have," he says, "the more you should be concerned about anything that might be heart-related."
Especially watch out for these problems:
1. Chest Discomfort
It’s the most common sign of heart danger. If you have a blocked artery or are having a heart attack, you may feel pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest.
"Everyone has a different word for that feeling," Chambers says. "Some people say it's like an elephant is sitting on them. Other people say it's like a pinching or burning."
The feeling usually lasts longer than a few minutes. It may happen when you're at rest or when you're doing something physical.
If it's just a very brief pain -- or if it's a spot that hurts more when you touch or push on it -- it's probably not your heart, Chambers says. You should still get it checked out by a doctor. If the symptoms are more severe and don’t go away after a few minutes, you should call 911.
Also, keep in mind you can have heart problems -- even a heart attack -- without chest pain. That’s particularly common among women.
2. Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain
Some people have these symptoms during a heart attack. They may even vomit, Chambers says.
Women are more likely to report this type of symptom than men are.
Of course, you can have an upset stomach for many reasons that have nothing to do with your heart. It could just be something you ate, after all. But you need to be aware that it can also happen during a heart attack.
So if you feel this way and you’re at risk for heart problems, let a doctor find out what’s going on, especially if you also have any of the other symptoms on this list.