Heart disease has been the No. 1 cause of death in America for nearly a century, claiming more lives each year than all forms of cancer combined. In the U.S. alone, someone has a coronary event (a heart attack or death from coronary heart disease) every 40 seconds. But you don’t need to become a statistic. To help you slow or even prevent the progression of heart disease, Harvard Medical School experts created Diseases of the Heart. This Special Health Report brings you important information on various conditions that affect the heart, along with their causes and symptoms, how they're diagnosed, and how they can be prevented. You’ll learn about major cardiovascular problems such as hardening of the arteries, peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, and more. You’ll get details on atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, valve problems, aneurysms, and infections and inflammation of the heart, as well as rare conditions and congenital defects. You’ll find answers you can trust to nearly all your cardiovascular questions, like: Why you may need your blood pressure taken at your ankle A common cause of heart palpitations Why a low-sodium diet is critical if you have heart failure Reasons you may need cholesterol-lowering medication even if your cholesterol levels are normal And so much more! Plus, you’ll get a Special Bonus Section—Lifestyle habits that help your heart—that reveals dozens of things you can do to keep your heart healthy. 6 signs of a heart attack you may not know The common signs of a heart attack for both men and women are pain in the center of the chest that spreads through the upper body and sweating. However, women and older people may be more likely to experience some less common symptoms, such as: Shortness of breath Weakness Nausea or vomiting Dizziness Back or jaw pain Unexplained fatigue If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. In addition, chew one standard, 325-mg plain aspirin tablet (not a baby aspirin) as soon as possible. Chewing the pill gets its anticlotting compounds into your bloodstream much faster than swallowing it. Make sure it is a regular aspirin, not enteric-coated, which will act slowly even if chewed.
Heart failure symptoms: More than "just getting old"
Heart failure causes two major problems for the body: (1) the tissues and organs don't get enough oxygen, and (2) fluid builds up in the lungs and tissues. Each of these spawns a series of distinct complaints. Lack of oxygen, for example, can lead to fatigue and mental confusion, while fluid buildup can cause weight gain and swelling in the feet and ankles. If you're unfamiliar with heart failure, you could easily interpret these as isolated symptoms. People often mistakenly attribute the early signs of heart failure to being out of shape, being overweight, or just getting old. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the symptoms can wax and wane over the course of the illness.
At first, heart failure generally affects only one side of the heart. The side of the heart where the weakness begins influences which early symptoms predominate:
Heart failure affects an estimated 5.8 million adults in the United States, and people over age 40 have about a one-in-five chance of developing the condition in their lifetime. In the past, people with heart failure tended to live an average of five years after diagnosis. But thanks to earlier diagnosis and rapid advances in treatment, many people diagnosed with heart failure today go on to enjoy many more years of fulfilling life than that.
So, if you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, don't hesitate to see your doctor. As with so many heart-related conditions, early diagnosis makes a world of difference.
To learn more about heart failure and other serious heart conditions, buy Diseases of the Heart, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.