February is the month for all things heart-related. Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate our love for one another, but we dedicate the rest of the month to taking care of our own hearts. That’s because February is American Heart Month. Started in 1963, according to the American Heart Association, American Heart Month began with the goal of drawing attention to cardiovascular diseases and their effect on Americans. The American Hospital Association reports that heart disease is now the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. The month-long event also celebrates the achievements of researchers and medical professionals who are looking at ways to help prevent heart disease and improve the lives of patients.
Many hospitals and clinics around the country offer free heart health screenings during February to help patients catch early signs of heart disease. Often, patients ignore signs of heart disease that could have led them to seek treatment sooner. Many people assume they know what to look for when it comes to heart disease, such as symptoms like severe chest pain and sweating. While those could be signs of a heart-related problem, there are other lesser-known symptoms you should watch for, as well.
Make sure you know which signs you shouldn’t ignore when it comes to your heart health, and how those signs may differ for men and women.
10 Signs You May Have a Problem With Your Heart
Discomfort in Your Chest
This is the classic symptom of a heart attack, but the pain might not be exactly what you expect. While sharp pains are a possibility, many people experience tightness and pressure in their chest instead. You should consider any discomfort in your chest to be a serious sign that you need to seek the help of a medical professional.
Sudden Pain in Your Arms or Upper Back
Your chest isn’t the only place you may experience pain during a heart attack. Sudden and unexplained pain in the arms and upper back are also possible, with the left arm being the most common site of pain.
Pain in Your Jaw or Throat
This is a commonly overlooked symptom of heart disease, as the jaw and throat aren’t closely associated with heart health. However, like the back, left arm, and chest, there are major arteries that run through your jaw and throat areas. During a heart attack (blockage of blood flow to a portion of the heart muscle) or angina (pain induced by lack of oxygen to the heart muscle), the blood flow to these arteries is cut off, resulting in pain.
Swelling in Your Legs and Ankles
There are a lot of reasons your lower extremities may swell, but it may also be a sign of heart failure. The heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, and if it’s failing, it’s much harder for it to pump blood in and out of your legs and feet. That’s because they are the furthest point from the heart, thus requiring the most effort.
Nausea and Indigestion
Stomach issues could be more than just dodgy takeout. If you are experiencing heartburn, indigestion, or even vomiting, then be aware that it could be a symptom of a heart problem. If you are already at risk of heart disease, then it’s worth contacting your doctor to discuss your stomach issues.
A cough on its own could be a symptom of a cold, allergies, or even asthma. But if the cough lasts for a long time and isn’t accompanied by other cold-related symptoms, contact your medical professional. It could be a sign of heart failure. If you start to cough up blood or pink mucus, it may be a sign that your heart isn’t pumping blood out of the lungs effectively.
Feeling Dizzy or Unsteady
Dizziness is one of those symptoms that are often hard to tie to a specific issue. There are a lot of reasons you might experience dizziness or feel unsteady on your feet, but heart disease is one of them. The dizzy feeling could be an indication of a drop in your blood pressure. If your dizziness accompanies any other symptoms in this list, don’t ignore it.
Unexplained Lack of Energy
Life is busy and we all struggle with having enough energy some days. Sudden, unexplained fatigue is a serious sign of a problem, though. This is especially true if you suddenly can’t do activities that you used to, like walking up a hill or going on your normal bike ride. Your heart may be having trouble keeping up with your normal exertion.
Breaking out into a sweat for no reason isn’t healthy and it could be a sign your heart is in distress. Your heart may be struggling to pump blood around the body, and you begin to sweat from the exertion. It can happen even when you are standing still or sitting down, so pay attention to unexplained sweating.
Your heart may skip a beat occasionally. When you feel excited, it may speed up. But an erratic heartbeat is bad news. Erratic heartbeats are irregular and out of rhythm, and that may mean your heart is having trouble. Seek help right away.
How Symptoms Differ for Men and Women
Men and women can experience many of the same symptoms of heart disease, including chest pains and sweating. However, women may experience signs that are more closely associated with a “silent heart attack.” Sufferers are less likely to recognize the symptoms of a silent heart attack as a serious heart issue. That means the symptoms may go undiagnosed by both medical professional and patient. That’s why it’s important for women to know and recognize these symptoms so they can get the care they need. Signs of a silent heart attack include dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. The symptoms may be less intense than those associated with a standard heart attack but are no less serious. If you are experiencing symptoms, it’s best to get them checked out by a medical professional.
Being proactive about your heart health could help prevent more serious issues in the future. Take advantage of screenings and other free health services during American Heart Month. Make sure you are doing what you can to take care of your heart and prevent the onset of heart disease.