Body pain? Pop a pill. Breathless? Get some air. Feeling tired? Take a nap.
That’s how we usually ignore the early warning signs that our heart gives us. Last year, nearly 25% of the people admitted to a hospital due to a sudden stroke had no signs of heart failure before the episode, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. The foundation even adds that there maybe about 28% survival rate for people who were at home when they experienced the attack. Now, that’s something we need to ponder on. How do we recognise the warning signs our heart gives us? There is an increasing prevalence of heart failure in India and worldwide in recent years, with Indians being affected at a younger age. As per the Trivandrum Heart Failure Registry, Indians diagnosed with heart failure are typically 10 years younger as compared to Westerners. Also, the prognosis for heart failure is worse in India than in the West.
It’s high time we start paying attention to the various ways our heart is calling out for help. Here’s a list of symptoms that you need to discuss with your healthcare provider in order to diagnose any heart conditions:
- Shortness of breath: A feeling of breathlessness during physical activity is common, but if you feel like this even at rest or while sleeping, you should speak to your doctor. Many people are unable to breathe comfortably when they are lying down flat on the bed. It happens when the heart is not able to accommodate all the blood coming in. Fluid may also leak back into the lungs, making it difficult for you to breathe. Speak with your physician if you are experiencing tiredness even after a full night’s sleep.
- Oedema or swelling: Have your shoes been feeling tight lately? Or, do you see swelling around your ankles? Do you feel like you have gained weight recently around the abdomen? This could be a symptom that fluid is being retained in your body. It occurs because your heart isn’t able to pump efficiently and the blood that is not being sent back to the heart pools in the veins, leading to swelling.
- Tiredness and fatigue: If you feel tired even while doing simple daily tasks like shopping or carrying groceries, it’s time you speak with your doctor. It may be your heart’s way of calling for help. When your heart doesn’t pump sufficient blood to the vital body parts, the body directs blood from the muscles to these parts. In turn, your muscles aren’t able to carry out their daily activities.
- Wheezing or persistent cough: If you have been experiencing cough for a long time and have difficulty breathing, it could be a sign that your heart needs help. The reason is the same: a weak heart may cause fluid to build up in the lungs, leading to coughing and shortness of breath.
- Compromised thinking and confusion: Has someone close to you recently told you that you are losing your memory? Have you been feeling disoriented and confused lately? There is a chance that there is a change in the levels of certain chemicals in your blood. An imbalance in sodium levels could cause you to be confused. Speak with your healthcare provider if this is new to you.
- Nausea or a lack of appetite: If you feel sick in the stomach or feel like your stomach is full too often, it could be a sign your digestive system isn’t getting enough blood. When a body part or system receives less blood, it is not able to function correctly, which is probably one of the reasons your digestive system is affected. Speak to your doctor to find the reason why you have stomach issues.
- Palpitations or increased heart rate: When the heart isn’t pumping enough blood, it tends to make up for it by pumping faster to supply blood to all the organs. Pumping faster means more beats per minute. It’s time for that long overdue visit to the doctor to find the underlying cause of this issue.
You must remember that observing just one of these symptoms may not necessarily mean you have heart failure. A combination of many of these symptoms could indicate heart failure. Treatment of all the symptoms may not be possible, but early management could help you avert a trip to the hospital for sure!
- Mary Newman. AHA releases latest statistics on sudden cardiac arrest [Internet]. 2018 Feb 01 [cited 2019 Jul 22]. Available from: https://www.sca-aware.org/sca-news/aha-releases-latest-statistics-on-sudden-cardiac-arrest.
- Guha S, Harikrishnan S, Ray S, Sethi R, Ramakrishnan S., Banerjee S, et al. CSI position statement on the management of heart failure in India. Indian Heart J. 2018 Jul;70(Suppl 1):S1–S72. doi: 10.1016/j.ihj.2018.05.003.
- Warning signs of heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2019 Jul 22]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/warning-signs-of-heart-failure.