Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease

What is cardiovascular disease? Cardiovascular disease (also called heart disease) is a term used to describe diseases of the heart and blood vessels. These conditions can lead to many life-threatening health problems such as heart attack and stroke. A major contributor to heart disease is atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in blood vessels). If blocked, the blood vessel can no longer supply blood and oxygen to areas of the body like the heart or brain. This can result in heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure (excessive force of blood through the blood vessels) also causes damage to blood vessels and can overwork the heart.

Symptoms of heart disease. Heart disease is usually not felt until it threatens your life. Some heart attacks happen quickly and cause severe pain, but most occur slowly with mild discomfort. According to the American Heart Association, there are several symptoms that can indicate a heart attack may be occurring. These symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort – feels like uncomfortable heaviness, squeezing, fullness or an ache in the middle of the chest. The pain may come and go or last more than a few minutes.
  • Other areas of discomfort – the jaw, neck, stomach, arms, may experience pain or discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath – may occur even without body discomfort.
  • Other symptoms – cold sweat, lightheadedness and/or nausea.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Women may be more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Take immediate action when suspecting a heart attack! Call 9-1-1 or your local EMS (emergency medical services), even if you are not sure that you are having a heart attack. These services can get you help up to an hour before someone driving you to the hospital. Arriving by ambulance also gets you faster service at the hospital. The sooner you receive treatment, the less damage that is done.

How to lower cardiovascular disease risk:

  • Be active – aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week.
  • Eat well – choose foods that are low in saturated fat, free of trans fat, low in sodium and free of added sugar. Increase your intake of high fiber foods.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep your blood pressure and blood sugar within normal ranges.
  • See your doctor regularly and take any prescribed medications.

Resources: American Heart Association

Danielle Genenz, MS, RD, LDN, CPT