February is Healthy Heart month and All Care is pleased to publish a blog series about heart disease, its effects, warning signs, and how to incorporate healthy habits to increase the health of your heart.
Part IV: Signs & Symptoms of Heart Failure & Heart Attacks
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any type of disorder that affects the heart. Heart disease means the same as cardiac disease but not cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to disorders of the blood vessels and heart, while heart disease refers to just the heart.
About 610,000 Americans dies from heart disease each year, roughly translating to 1 in every 4 deaths. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease claiming more than 370,000 American lives, annually. Every minute in the United States someone dies from a heart-related event, and a lot of those deaths are preventable. Early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease and heart failure can help to improve the quality of an individual’s life while also extending their life, as well. There are various forms of treatment, medication, adopting a low-sodium diet, increasing physical activity, etc., but it’s still important that people with heart failure track their symptoms each day so they can review them with their physician but also to help them monitor their condition so that if there is a disruption in symptom pattern, appropriate and immediate action can be taken.
As we have covered extensively in the previous installments of our Healthy Heart Blog Series, there are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease and failure; while not all risk factors are within our control, we do have the ability to make healthy lifestyle choices that will strengthen our hearts and help prevent cardiac events.
Heart failure can be an ongoing issue (chronic) or it can come on suddenly (acute) but both share many signs and symptoms. Here are some of the most common warning signs of heart failure:
- Increased Heart Rate- To compensate for the loss in pumping capacity, the heart begins to beat faster resulting in heart palpitations that feel like your heart is racing or throbbing
- Nausea or Lack of Appetite- In heart failure the digestive system receives less blood which causes problems with digestion resulting in a feeling of being full or sick to your stomach
- Fatigue or Lightheadedness- In heart failure your heart can’t pump sufficient blood to meet the needs of your body tissues so the body diverts blood away from less vital organs, specifically the limbs, and sends it instead to the heart and the brain, this can result in a feeling tired all the time, having difficulty with everyday activities like climbing stairs, carrying groceries, or even walking
- Edema (Build Up of Fluids)- As the blood flow from the heart begins to slow, the blood returning to the heart gets backed up causing fluid to build up in the tissue making it difficult for the kidneys to dispose of sodium which increases fluid retention in the tissue resulting in swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, or a quick onset of general weight gain
- Shortness of Breath- Blood backs up in the vessels returning blood to your heart, or the pulmonary veins, because the heart can’t keep up with the supply which can lead to fluid leaking into the lungs resulting in feeling breathless during physical activity (however light), at rest, to while sleeping which can come on suddenly and wake you. This can also result in difficulty breathing while lying flat or a feeling of restlessness or anxiety when you wake up
- Chronic Wheezing or Coughing- Much like the cause of shortness of breath, a leakage of fluid in the lungs due to a backup in the pulmonary veins can cause a persistent cough that produces a white or pink blood-tinged mucus
- Confusion or Impaired Thinking- Changing levels of certain substances in the blood (like sodium) can cause confusion resulting in memory loss or feelings of disorientation (usually noticed by a relative, caregiver, or other loved one first)
If you have never been diagnosed with heart failure but you believe you may be experiencing signs or symptoms of heart failure, contact your doctor for an exam. Seek immediate Emergency treatment, however, if you experience the following:
- Chest pain
- Fainting or severe weakness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting
- Sudden, severe, shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack or myocardial infraction can vary significantly from patient to patient; however, in order to help you identify a potential heart attack, we will review some of the most common symptoms experienced leading up to or during a heart attack. For example, 2 out of 3 people who have heart attacks experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue in the days or even weeks leading up to the attack. And someone who already suffers from angina (temporary chest pain) could find it takes less and less excursion or physical activity to trigger their pain. Any change in pattern such as this should prompt you to see your physician immediately.
Half of deaths from heart attack occur in the first 3 to 4 hours after the onset of symptoms which is why it is important to recognize the warning signs so you can act fast! Remember not everyone will experience the same symptoms, men and women especially experience vastly different symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack so it’s imperative to understand all the signs.
During a Heart Attack:
- Pain in the middle of the chest that can spread to the back, neck, jaw, or arms-important to note that this pain can be in the back, neck, jaw, and arms but not in the chest
- Gas-like pain or pressure that could be mistaken for indigestion. While similar to angina this pain will be more severe, will last longer, and won’t be alleviated with rest or a nitroglycerin pill
- 1 out of 3 people will not experience chest pain at all. These people will most likely be women, non-Caucasian, older than 75, suffer from heart failure or diabetes, or have had a stroke previously
- Nausea and vomiting, often mistaken for food poisoning or the flu
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath, especially in older adults
- Sweatiness, restlessness, anxiety, feelings or a sense of impending doom
- Heavy pounding of the heart or other abnormal heart rhythms
- Bluish tint to lips, hands, or feet
- Disorientation resembling a stroke (usually in older individuals)
- Loss of consciousness (Could be the first symptom of a heart attack)
Helping a Heart Attack Victim:
- If you think you or someone around you is having a heart attack, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY! Every minute delayed is more damage to the heart muscle
- Have the victim chew an aspirin after the ambulance has been called as it may help to reduce the size of the clot
Helping a Victim of Sudden Cardiac Arrest:
- CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!
- When appropriate, begin CPR- CPR can double, even triple, a cardiac arrest victim’s chances of survival
- Look for an AED! An AED is an automated external defibrillator (those gadgets we’ve all seen on the hospital shows, with the paddles and the actor playing the doctor shouts, “Clear!”). Many public places like airports, shopping malls, or restaurants now come equipped with AEDs; brain death beings 4 to 6 minutes after cardiac arrest but is often times reversible if treated within minutes with an electric shock to the heart from defibrillation to restore a normal heartbeat. These portable machines are fairly easy to use, by adhering the pads to the patient, the machine will indicate whether it is a ‘shockable rhythm’ or not and advise you how to proceed
Chances of survival for a victim of sudden cardiac arrest drop 7-10% with each passing minute that they do not receive CPR and/or defibrillation. Very few attempts are successful after 10 minutes. It’s important to know the warning signs of heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest, educate yourself to recognize the symptoms so you can act fast and, possibly, save a life. You never know, it could be your own!
In continuation with our February Heart Health Blog Series, be sure to come back and check out our next installment discuss some of the important information you need to know about women and heart disease.