11 Signs You Need To Get Your Heart Checked

Accident & Emergency Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Heart Attack Public Health

Man clutching chest due to chest pain and heart problems

How do you tell if something’s wrong with your heart?

"If you're not sure, get it checked out," says Charles Chambers, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute.

That’s especially true if you are 60 or older, are overweight, or have diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, says Vincent Bufalino, MD, an American Heart Association spokesman. "The more risk factors you have," he says, "the more you should be concerned about anything that might be heart-related." [1]

Here are some signs you should especially watch out for:

1. Chest Discomfort

It’s the most common sign of heart danger. If you have a blocked artery or are having a heart attack, you may feel pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest.

The feeling usually lasts longer than a few minutes. It may happen when you're at rest or when you're doing something physical.

If it's just a very brief pain – or if it's a spot that hurts more when you touch or push on it – it's probably not your heart. But you should still get it checked out by a doctor. 

Also, keep in mind you can have heart problems – even a heart attack – without chest pain. That’s particularly common among women.

Woman dressed in purple shirt clutching chest due to chest pain

2. Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain

Some people have these symptoms during a heart attack. They may even vomit, Chambers says.

Women are more likely to report this type of symptom than men.

So if you feel this way and you’re at risk for heart problems, get checked, especially if you also have any of the other symptoms on this list.

3. Pain that Spreads to the Arm

Another symptom for heart attack is pain that radiates down the left side of the body.

"It almost always starts from the chest and moves outward," Chambers says. "But I have had some patients who have mainly arm pain that turned out to be heart attacks."

Woman clutching arm due to arm pain, a symptom of heart attack.

4. You Feel Dizzy or Lightheaded

A lot of things can make you lose your balance or feel faint for a moment. Maybe you didn’t have enough to eat or drink, or you stood up too fast.

But if you suddenly feel unsteady and you also have chest discomfort or shortness of breath, call a doctor immediately.

"It could mean your blood pressure has dropped because your heart isn't able to pump the way it should," Bufalino says.

5. Throat or Jaw Pain

If you have pain or pressure in the center of your chest that spreads up into your throat or jaw, it could be a sign of a heart attack. Seek medical attention immediately.

6. You Get Exhausted Easily

If you suddenly feel extremely exhausted after doing something you had no problem doing in the past – e.g., climbing the stairs or carrying groceries from the car – get checked immediately.

"These types of significant changes are more important to us than every little ache and pain you might be feeling," Bufalino says.

Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness, sometimes for days at a time, can be a symptom of heart disease, especially for women.

Asian woman feeling exhausted

7. Snoring

It’s normal to snore a little while you snooze. But unusually loud snoring that sounds like a gasping or choking can be a sign of sleep apnea. That’s when you stop breathing for brief moments several times at night while you are still sleeping. This puts extra stress on your heart.

Your doctor can check whether you need a sleep study to see if you have this condition. If you do, you may need a CPAP machine to smooth out your breathing while you sleep.

8. Sweating

Breaking out in a cold sweat for no obvious reason could signal a heart attack. If this happens along with any of these other symptoms, go to a hospital right away by calling an ambulance. This is to ensure the availability of a defibrillator should there be a heart attack. Make sure you don’t try to drive yourself.

9. A Cough That Won’t Quit

If you have heart disease or know you're at risk, pay special attention.

If you have a long-lasting cough that produces a white or pink mucus, it could be a sign of heart failure. This happens when the heart can't keep up with the body's demands, causing blood to leak back into the lungs.

Ask your doctor to check on what’s causing your cough.

Asian woman coughing

10. Your Legs, Feet, and Ankles Are Swollen

This could be a sign that your heart doesn’t pump blood as effectively as it should.

When the heart can't pump fast enough, blood backs up in the veins and causes bloating.

Heart failure can also make it harder for the kidneys to remove extra water and sodium from the body, which can lead to bloating.

11. Irregular Heart Beat

If you feel like your heart is beating out of time for more than just a few seconds, or if it happens often, get checked.

"In most cases, it's usually caused by something that's easy to fix, like too much caffeine or not getting enough sleep," Bufalino says. But sometimes, it could be a sign of something worse, like a condition called atrial fibrillation.

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Unconscious man lying down after a heart attack, with CardiAid automated external defibrillator (AED) attached on him for life-saving purposes

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