Heart disease is the leading cause of death all over the world, accounting for more than a third of all deaths worldwide; more than cancer and HIV. Heart disease can be congenital (you were born with it) or acquired (you developed it as an adult). Congenital heart diseases are more common in children and may not be preventable. Acquired heart disease however is generally preventable if we control the risk factors (hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and so on). These risk factors usually precede heart disease and are usually symptomless. However when heart disease develop, these symptoms may occur. An individual may experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Chest pain: Chest pain due to heart disease is located in the middle of the chest, or the left breast area. It can also be felt along the jaw and/or down the left shoulder. It is typically brought on by activity or strong emotion like anger, and relieved by rest. The pain is usually described as heavy, dull or gripping; although some report a peppery kind of pain. You may feel like vomiting and there may also be sweating.
- Awareness of heart beat (palpitations): Our hearts have been beating since we were in our mothers’ wombs and we are generally unaware of the sound of our heartbeat. Sometimes, we can actually hear or feel the thumping of the heart in our ears or in our chest. This may be accompanied by excessive urination or breathing difficulty. It’s important to note that there are other causes of palpitations which include: fear/anxiety, use of stimulants like coffee, tea, energy drinks, some “fat burning pills”, kolanut, and herbal preparations.
- Difficulty in breathing: This is a common symptom of heart failure. It usually starts with waking up suddenly in the middle of the night gasping for air, or with a “chocking feeling”. It may then progress to difficulty in breathing when you lay flat and would need 2-3 pillows to feel better. Some people may find they can only find relief if they sleep sitting up!!! There may also be difficulty breathing when carrying out day to day activities like bathing, cooking, dressing and so on. Difficulty in breathing at rest may also occur.
- Body swelling: Swelling of both ankles/feet may also be a feature of heart disease and it may progress to involve the legs up to the thigh, groin and private part. The swelling is usually painless and if you press it your finger will leave a dent OR, youThere may also be swelling of the abdomen and prominent veins in the head and neck. Body swelling may also manifest as rapid weight gain due to water retention.
- Fainting/passing out: When there are problems with the heart’s electrical system, (yes your heart is powered by a battery), there can be episodes of fainting attacks.
If you have one or more of these symptoms, it is important you talk to your doctor immediately who will order a series of investigations to determine the cause. If he/she establishes that you have a heart condition, they will refer you to a heart doctor (Cardiologist). While it is understandable that a heart disease diagnosis can be extremely scary, getting care early is very important to prevent further deterioration of your symptoms and complications will set in.