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Heart Disease - Knowing the Warning Signs

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
November 1, 2022
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If you are reading this, you likely have been told that you have elevated blood pressure at some point in the past. But if you ever have severe symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to know if your symptoms are a sign of something serious - when do we call our doctor? When do we call 9-1-1? Are my symptoms related to my heart, or is it just heartburn? Knowing your body is crucial in knowing how to handle scary situations. Here we will talk about how to recognize and respond to those situations.

What is Hypertension, Heart Attack, and Stroke?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure is a condition in which the arteries have persistently raised pressure.

The pressure is created by your blood pushing against the artery walls as it is being pumped by the heart. The higher your blood pressure is, the harder your heart needs to work.

If you are having high blood pressure, over time you may develop:

High blood pressure is called the ‘silent killer' because it often has no symptoms, no warning signs, and so many people don’t realize that they have it.

High blood pressure is a major cause of coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. High blood pressure can damage your arteries, and cause blockages of blood flow to vital organs.

When arteries and veins are narrowed in and around the heart, this is called coronary heart disease, and occurs due to plaque build-up that limits blood flow. This is usually silent and has no symptoms.

When the arteries providing blood to the heart are blocked, this can cause a heart attack, and when the blockage occurs in arteries going to the brain, it is called a stroke. The result is that certain cells in the heart or brain may get damaged or die due to being cut off from oxygen and nutrients to those organs.

What are Signs of a Stroke?

When your blood pressure is high, or when cholesterol is elevated, this puts you at increased risks for heart attach or stroke. These are also sometimes asymptomatic. However, if you have any of the following symptoms, noted by the CDC, then you may be having a stroke, and may need urgent medical attention:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Sometimes, we may have these symptoms for a few minutes, and then they go away. It may not be a sign of any problem, but it may also indicate a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Although brief, a TIA is a sign of a serious condition that will not go away without medical help. Unfortunately, because TIAs clear up, many people ignore them. But paying attention to a TIA can save your life. Tell your doctor about your symptoms right away.

What are Signs of a Heart Attack?

The major symptoms of a heart attack, per the CDC, are

  • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.

Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Learn more about women and heart disease.

Call 9-1-1 if you notice symptoms of a heart attack or stroke

Call 9-1-1 and your provider immediately if you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone else. And make sure your loved ones are also aware of how to recognize when a heart condition is serious.

Takeaways

You may have noticed that many of the symptoms of a heart attack may be similar to those of a stroke. Regardless of the illness, if you are feeling new, severe, or concerning symptoms, you should always seek medical care. Call 9-1-1 and your provider immediately if you are having symptoms, and keep those closest to you involved in your heath and aware of your conditions.

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