6 signs you shouldn’t ignore

You likely know that heart health is important, but it’s probably not top-of-mind on a daily basis. It’s easy to stay on the couch instead of run, decide to have an extra cookie or put off quitting smoking until tomorrow. But small actions every day can add up to bigger issues.

“In the U.S. alone, heart disease claims more than half a million lives every year, making it responsible for one in every four deaths,” said Geisinger cardiologist Mark Bernardi, DO. “Preventing heart disease is an important step to living a long, healthy life, which makes it important to know and understand the signs of heart trouble.”

Here are six signs that your heart is in trouble. If you notice any of these signs, don’t ignore them.

Exhaustion and weakness

It’s normal to be tired after a late night, but if you’re exhausted all the time, it could be your heart. 

Your body’s energy levels are directly related to your blood flow and oxygen levels. Low oxygen levels come from your heart struggling to pump blood, and it can make you consistently tired and make it harder to think clearly.

Swollen feet

If your heart is struggling to pump blood, that may show up in your feet. 

Heart failure can slow your blood flow, which can cause pressure to build up in the legs. This causes a fluid buildup called edema, which causes swelling in your legs and feet. One of the causes of heart failure and edema can be high blood pressure. 

Dizziness, light-headedness and shortness of breath
Slow blood flow and low oxygen levels in the brain and lungs can lead to dizziness, light-headedness and shortness of breath. 

“If small activities, like going up the stairs or going about your daily life consistently make you dizzy or out of breath, don’t ignore them,” said Dr. Bernardi. “Dizziness and being out of breath are both examples of your body telling you that you need more oxygen.”


Some research suggests a link between migraines with auras and heart problems, but more research is needed to make a definite connection.   

If you're suffering from migraines, you may want to ask your doctor if it could be a heart issue.

Swollen and bleeding gums
“Recent research has shown that your mouth can show your heart health,” said Dr. Bernardi. “In fact, some of the same bacteria found in your mouth can be found in your heart. So, if you have high levels of bacteria and swelling in your mouth, it’s wise to get your heart checked, too.”

Sweating while exercising is normal. Breaking out in a sweat while watching TV is not. Heart failure makes pumping blood more difficult, so your heart has to work harder. To compensate, your body sweats to keep your body temperature normal. If you’re having serious episodes of sweating, get medical attention. 

While all of these signs are serious, they take on extra importance if you: 

  • Are overweight or obese 
  • Use drugs and alcohol 
  • Have a high level of stress
  • Eat a diet high in sodium and saturated fat
  • Don’t exercising regularly
  • Have a family history of heart disease
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have diabetes
  • Are male

If these risk factors apply to you, it’s especially important to talk to your doctor and create a heart health plan.

When heart disease goes untreated, you’re at risk for having a heart attack. Get emergency medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme pressure or pain in the chest that may come and go
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Cold sweats

Mark Bernardi, DO, is medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, click here or call 800-275-6401.

A woman suffering a heart aliment is checked on by another woman