The scary part (and not Freddy and Jason scary) is that many signs and symptoms of heart disease are easily ignorable, and are often times discounted. One thing I learned in talking to women at the Western Quilt & Sew Expo at the end of June was this: many women shrug off the small things in favor of caring for others. While it's great that women as a whole are so nurturing (as are men!), we need to make sure to pay attention to our bodies- they will tell us when something is off. So, here are a few of the most surprising signs of an unhealthy heart (courtesy of Melanie Haiken of caring.com).
1. Snoring, sleep apnea, other breathing problems
Restricted breathing is linked with all kinds of cardiovascular disease. If your husband, or wife, keeps you up with consistent snoring, it's possible the heart is working too hard to keep oxygen flowing while resting. If you're like my mom, she's been sleeping through my dad's snoring for 30 years and he was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is another common sleep related disorder that can lead to heart disease related problems down the line. Those with sleep apnea were found to have three times the normal risk of having a heart attack within five years.
2. Sore, swollen, or bleeding gums
In February Jimmy Beans Wool held our first Stitch Red Knit Night and hosted Dr. Ocean (a local dentist) who spoke to over 30 men and women about the connection between oral hygiene and heart health. He even touched on the signs of periodontal disease: sore, swollen, or bleeding gums. The gums will inflame and pull away from the teeth when exposed to bacteria. So, how does this have anything to do with heart disease? Experts believe that poor circulation due to heart disease could be an underlying cause of periodontal disease. The prevalence of this disease is underestimated by 50%! I will be one of the first to attest to not being a #1 fan of dentist appointments, but avoiding them could lead to a whole slew of other health issues that can be avoided or treated.
3. Puffy or swollen legs or feet
If you notice your feet swelling enough to make your shoes tight or to leave sock imprints on your calves, this could be a sign of fluid retention (edema). It might seem harmless but edema can be a sign of coronary artery disease (CAD), heart failure and other forms of heart disease. Fluids are retained by the body when the heart doesn't pump strongly enough and blood doesn't carry waste from the tissues.
Areas to watch: feet, ankles, fingers, hands, and legs are usually the first to swell because they are the furthest from the heart and receive the poorest circulation.
4. Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia
When your heart is beating too fast, pounding too hard, or skipping beats (and not in that playful, butterflies in the stomach sort of way) it's a signal that something in the cardiovascular system is out of whack. CAD is the most common cause of irregular heartbeat, it's also the same thing that leads the way for sudden death in men and women because it can cause stroke or heart attack.
5. Shortness of breath
"In a landmark study by the National Institutes of Heath (NIH) published in: Circulation: Journal of American Heart Institute, 95 percent of women who'd had heart attacks reported experiencing unusual symptoms in the weeks and months before the attack, and 40 percent reported shortness of breath."
The moral of the story? Don't discount shortness of breath!
6. Constriction or aching in the chest or shoulder
We've all heard the tell tale sign of a heart attack- pain in the right side or the chest. So this last sign shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The most common sign of CAD is angina (a type of chest pain). This isn't the same pain felt during a heart attack, it's a deep ache or constriction or weight on the chest. Often times this pain will worsen with the inhale of breath. Angina can easily be missed because it feels different to everyone and can be mistaken for heartburn, indigestion or a pulled muscle.
To learn more, check out this fantastic article on the "7 Surprising Signs of an Unhealthy Heart" and, as always, The Heart Truth is a wonderful resource for tips on how to prevent and control the risks of heart disease. What are YOU doing to "stick it to heart disease"?