Heart Conditions

Warning Signs of an Imminent Heart Problem

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and takes more lives than any other reason. Not all heart problems come with clear and evident warning signs. Many at-risk people are unaware of the symptoms of major heart-related problems. Often, the very first sign that something is wrong with heart health is a heart attack.
It is important to be informed about diseases that adversely affect the heart. Knowing the different types of heart disease and their symptoms can help people take preventative measures to reduce their risk of heart attack, heart failure and cardiac arrest.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a term that is used to describe a wide range of conditions that affect heart health. Coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (problems related to heart rhythm), congenital heart defects (birth defects that affect the heart structure) are some of the conditions that are included in the heart disease umbrella.
The terms “cardiovascular disease” and “heart disease” are often used interchangeably. The definition of cardiovascular disease encompasses all the conditions covered under heart disease. However, it also covers conditions that affect blood vessels such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (narrowing or hardening blood vessels).

Symptoms of different types of heart disease

1. Atherosclerotic disease (narrowed or blocked blood vessels)

Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances on the artery walls (plaque), which can restrict blood flow. Typical symptoms include:
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest (angina)
  • Breathlessness
  • Weakness, pain, coldness or numbness in limbs (legs or arms where blood flow has stopped or slowed)
  • Pain in the jaw, throat, neck, back or upper abdomen

2. Heart arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats)

An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat, in which the heart can beat too fast, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm. Symptoms could be:
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Fluttering in chest
  • Pain or discomfort in the chest (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting

3. Congenital heart defect

A congenital heart defect is present at birth. It generally manifests as a problem with the structure of the heart, involving the walls, valves, arteries or veins.
  • Swelling in feet, ankles or hands
  • Getting easily tired during physical activity or exercise
  • Quickly getting short of breath during physical exertion or activity

4. Dilated cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle)

It is a disease of the heart muscle, where the heart cannot pump blood compared to a healthy heart. The symptoms can be:
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Breathlessness during activity or at rest
  • Swelling in feet, ankles or hands
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting

5. Endocarditis (heart infection)

Endocarditis is inflammation of the heart's inner lining and is caused by bacteria. Symptoms can include:
  • Fever
  • Persistent cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Swelling in abdomen or legs
  • Skin rashes

6. Valvular heart disease (damaged heart valves)

This problem occurs when one of the four heart valves is damaged or diseased. Typical symptoms can include:
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen ankles or feet or ankles
  • Fainting

Major complications associated with heart disease

  • Heart failure

It is one of the major and most common complications of heart disease. The condition, also known as congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart muscle is not able to pump blood as much or as effectively as is needed to meet the requirements of the body. It often results from heart disease conditions that damage or weaken the heart.
  • Heart attack

A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood flow to the heart gets blocked. The blockage can be caused by cholesterol, accumulated fats and other substances that form a plaque in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries).
  • Sudden cardiac arrest

The condition refers to the abrupt and unexpected loss of consciousness, breathing, and heart function. Cardiac arrest is often caused by an arrhythmia. It occurs when an electrical disturbance in the heart disrupts its normal pumping action, thereby stopping the blood flow to the entire body.

Factors that affect heart health

  • Age: Risk of narrowed and damaged blood vessels and weakened or thickened heart muscle increases with age.
  • Gender: Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease than women. However, the risk of heart disease in women increases after menopause.
  • Family history: People who have a history of heart disease in their family are at a greater risk of heart problems.
  • Smoking: People who smoke are at a greater risk of heart attack than non-smokers. Nicotine in cigarette constricts the blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more prone to atherosclerosis.
  • Poor diet: A diet that is high in processed carbs, fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure): Untreated high blood pressure can result in narrowing, hardening and thickening of arteries, thereby restricting the flow of blood throughout the body.
  • High blood cholesterol levels: High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack.
  • Diabetes: Having type 2 diabetes significantly increases an individual’s risk of heart disease.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight typically worsens other risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise and physical inactivity can lead to weight gain and contribute to different types of heart disease.
  • Stress: Unrelieved stress can cause hormonal imbalance and increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are major risk factors for heart disease.

How to improve heart health?

It may not be possible to prevent certain types of heart disease, such as congenital heart defects. However, one can significantly reduce the risk of other types of heart disease by incorporating healthy changes to diet and lifestyle.
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce intake of processed and high-calorie foods
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week.
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Practice yoga and meditation
  • Manage existing pre-conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Get regular heart screenings.


A healthy heart is one of the most important components of overall good health. It is not difficult to prevent further damage to heart health. All one has to do is embrace a healthy lifestyle. One is never too old or too young to take steps aimed at preventing heart disease and reducing their risk for a heart attack or heart failure. However, the earlier one starts, the longer he or she can reap the benefits.
For any questions relating to heart health, you can:

Talk to a Cardiologist


Heart Conditions


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