The signs of heart disease can be subtle.
Small issues like bleeding gums may not seem to mean much. But if they become chronic, these symptoms can be a clear warning that your heart isn’t working like it should.
For most of our lives, heart health isn’t usually top of mind. Most of us spent our younger years eating what we wanted, getting by on little sleep and not worrying about hitting step goals.
But as we age, our actions and choices need to mature with us if we want to stay healthy.
“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,” says Gregory Yost, DO, a cardiologist at Geisinger.
6 signs of heart problems
Besides chest discomfort, what other signs of heart problems should you watch for? Lesser-known ones include exhaustion, swollen feet and gums, dizziness, migraines and uncharacteristic sweating. If you notice any of these, discuss them with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
1. Exhaustion and weakness
While exhaustion alone isn’t a sign of heart problems, chronic exhaustion and weakness can be.
Your energy levels are directly related to blood flow and oxygen levels. A healthy heart constantly pumps oxygen-carrying blood through your body. But if there are underlying problems with your heart, it might not work as efficiently.
As a result, you may begin to feel tired after routine activities — or even confused. Because oxygen isn’t reaching your muscles and brain as it normally does, weakness and fatigue become obvious.
If you’re often feeling exhausted and weak, consult with your healthcare provider to find a cause.
2. Swollen feet
Swollen feet are a more subtle sign of potential heart concerns. In fact, your socks and shoes can make it difficult to notice your feet are swollen in the first place.
But why would your feet swell if you have heart problems? Because your heart regulates blood flow. Slow blood flow can cause pressure to build up in your legs, leading to edema.
Edema is the buildup of fluid in the body’s tissues. Typically, edema related to heart problems can be seen in the legs and feet. Any sign of heart failure or reduced function is serious, so talk to your doctor if you notice swelling in your feet.
3. Dizziness, light-headedness and shortness of breath
Slow blood flow and low oxygen levels in the brain and lungs can lead to feeling dizzy, light-headed and short of breath. And it’s especially important to notice if you have these symptoms without rigorous activity.
“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,” says Dr. Yost. “Dizziness and being out of breath are both examples of your body telling you that you need more oxygen.”
Migraines are intense headaches that are bad enough on their own. Some research suggests migraines with auras may be linked to heart problems, but more studies are needed on the connection between these two health issues.
If you have migraines with auras, take note of any new changes in symptoms of your headache. Newly developed weakness in your arms during a migraine could be a sign of heart issues.
5. Swollen and bleeding gums
Swollen or bleeding gums may not be the biggest indicator of heart health, but studies show a possible correlation.
“Recent research has revealed that your mouth can show your heart health,” notes Dr. Yost. “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.”
While the relationship between heart health and oral health isn’t clearly understood, consistent swollen and bleeding gums could be a sign of heart issues.
Sweating while exercising is normal. Breaking out in a sweat while watching TV is not. We sweat to keep our body temperature at a regular level. So why would you sweat when you aren’t active or it isn’t hot out?
Heart failure makes pumping blood more difficult, so your heart has to work harder. When your heart struggles to pump blood consistently, it generates heat. To compensate, your body starts sweating to keep your body temperature normal. If you’re having serious episodes of sweating when you shouldn’t be, seek medical attention.
Other factors of heart health
All these signs are even more important to report if they’re combined with other factors, such as 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 exercise regularly
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Have diabetes
- Are male
If any of these risk factors apply to you, talk to your doctor to create a heart health plan. Awareness is the first step in managing your heart health.
Left untreated, heart disease can cause a heart attack — when blood flow is severely reduced to the heart. Seek emergency care if you have any of these symptoms:
- Extreme pressure or pain in the chest that may come and go
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats
So watch for the subtler symptoms that can indicate a possible heart condition. If you have them, be sure to tell your healthcare provider. When you bring these issues to their attention earlier, they can screen you for heart disease — and make a plan to keep your heart strong for life.