Heart Disease: When to Seek Medical Attention

Heart disease covers a wide range of cardiovascular problems, from atherosclerosis to heart failure. In fact, many of these diseases are caused by atherosclerosis—a buildup of the waxy substance called plaque that consists of cholesterol, calcium, and other detritus in the blood vessels.

While many of these diseases are controllable, if not preventable, over a quarter of all deaths in the United States are from heart disease. If you suspect there’s something amiss with your cardiovascular system, it’s important to get to the doctor as soon as possible.

Types of Heart Disease

Heart disease is more common in older Americans, especially after a life of inactivity and unhealthy diet in combination with a cardiovascular system that’s losing steam. Atherosclerosis builds up over several years, leaving plaque deposits in the blood vessels that make it difficult for blood to flow properly. Clots may form, which prevent blood from moving at all. This can lead to a heart attack, which is not always deadly, but will always require an extreme change in your lifestyle. Clotting can also lead to a stroke, which cuts off blood and oxygen from the brain and killing brain cells. Other diseases that may develop include arrhythmias (an abnormality in the heart beat), heart valve issues, and even heart failure. All of these diseases will get worse without treatment.

When to Get Help

To know when it’s time to go to the doctor to seek medical attention, you must know what the signs of heart disease can include. Although these symptoms may indicate an immediate need for help, a yearly physical can help detect early warning signs so that treatment starts sooner and is more effective. Each type of heart disease presents with its own specific set of symptoms; however, there is considerable overlap when the cardiovascular system begins to break down.

Heart Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of heart disease may include chest pain (angina) or pain in other body parts close to the chest, such as the neck, jaw, and back. 

The extremities may be especially sensitive to cold or be especially weak; a pins and needles feeling may be present from the numbness as the blood vessels struggle to push blood through a vascular system that isn’t big enough for it. Additionally, the legs may become swollen, especially around the ankles.

You may experience difficulty breathing, dizziness or fainting, more tiredness than normal, or irregular heartbeats. When the disease present is an arrhythmia, symptoms may consist of the heart feeling fluttery, beating too fast or too slowly, as well as the other symptoms of heart disease.

Is it an Emergency?

While these symptoms may be indicative of a need to visit the doctor, in some situations it may be necessary to seek emergency treatment. Know the signs of a heart attack—angina, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, cold sweats, among other things. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you think something is seriously wrong. You could save a life.