Nearly half of all American adults have some sort of cardiovascular disease. And unfortunately, your risk factors for developing a heart condition increase as you age. For example, your heart can’t beat as fast during physical activity or times of stress as it did when you were younger. Your heart’s valves and walls can become stiffer with age. Plus, plaques and fatty deposits accumulate on the walls of arteries over the course of many years. Over time, any of these gradual developments could progress into a cardiac event.
The classic signs of heart trouble, like chest pain or tightness, are not the only signals your body may be using to tell you something is wrong. Even if you don’t have a history of cardiac issues, you should let your doctor know if you’ve consistently experienced any of the following.
If you suddenly feel fatigued or winded after doing something you had no problem doing in the past – like climbing the stairs or carrying groceries from the car – make an appointment with your doctor right away.
There are many conditions that can cause fatigue. Yet, persistent, unexplained tiredness could be a sign that your heart is struggling. If you suddenly feel fatigued or winded after doing activities you had no trouble doing in the past, consult with your doctor.
Shortness of breath
Similarly, feeling like you aren’t getting enough air during mild activity, or gasping for air after a small amount of exertion, could signal a potential heart problem. When your heart can’t pump effectively, less blood flows to your lungs and your muscles – causing a shortness of breath.
Feeling overfull or sick to your stomach can be a sign of heart failure. As the heart weakens, the digestive system receives less blood, causing digestive issues. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain are also common signs of a heart attack.
Snoring & trouble sleeping
Your blood circulation and heart activity naturally change when you go to sleep. If you have an underlying heart issue, you may experience symptoms that present more regularly when those changes occur – causing frequent waking and poor-quality sleep. Heart failure is also an underlying condition of sleep apnea, which is when you stop breathing for brief moments several times at night while you are still sleeping.
Swelling or bloating
When the heart can’t pump fast enough, blood backs up in the veins and causes swelling – especially in the lower extremities like your legs, ankles, or feet. A weakening heart can also make it harder for the kidneys to remove extra water and sodium from the body, which can also cause bloating. If you experience sudden, unexplained weight gain, your body may be retaining fluid due to a heart condition. If you have swelling that is significant enough that your finger leaves an indent when you touch your body, you should consult with your doctor.
Palpitations are when your heartbeat feels noticeably unusual. It’s usually described as a “fluttering” sensation, or like the heart is skipping beats. Palpitations can occur normally for a second or two – especially during intense emotion. However, if you feel like your heart is beating out of time for more than just a few seconds, or if you feel palpitations often, that could be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm and you should notify your doctor.
When your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively, your blood pressure can drop. If it drops too low, there may be reduced blood flow to the brain – which can make you feel faint during mild activity, or dizzy upon standing up. Older adults experiencing lightheadedness should consult a doctor right away, as this symptom can be a significant fall risk.
Heart failure can cause fluid to build up in your lungs, which can trigger coughing or wheezing without making you feel “sick” like catching a cold would. A long-lasting cough, especially one that produces a white or pinkish mucus, should be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.