Everyone wants to avoid heart disease, but many people don’t start living a healthier lifestyle until it’s already too late. The best way to prevent heart disease is to determine if you are at risk sooner than later. Here are some early signs to look out for.
Know your family history
Begin by researching your family’s history of heart disease — starting with your mother and father, and then your grandparents. Ask if anyone has or has had heart disease. Then, with your doctor, make a plan for healthy eating, exercise, and other lifestyle changes to manage your health.
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“Just because your family has a history of cardiovascular disease, does not mean that you will certainly have the same diseases, it just means that you are more likely to have them. Heart disease is not imminent, and your health can be managed by making lifestyle changes,” said Michael Miller, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Pay attention to physical symptoms
Both women and men should pay attention to physical symptoms, and any new or continuing health concerns that may hint at underlying heart problems. While signs of heart disease may vary, the following should not be ignored, and should be discussed with a doctor:
- Extreme fatigue: Constantly being tired may be a sign of something more serious. When fatigue becomes extreme, it is best to speak with a doctor, as there may be a connection to heart disease.
- Swollen feet: Swollen feet could be related to many things including pregnancy, but it may also mean heart disease. According to Miller, “Heart-related foot swelling is usually accompanied by other symptoms that include shortness of breath and/or fatigue.”
- Pain or trouble breathing: Whether walking, climbing or just moving around, pain within your hips or legs may be a sign of a blockage in the arteries, and trouble breathing could be caused by fluid buildup.
- Dizziness / lightheaded: Similarly, feeling dizzy or lightheaded more than often could be a sign of a blockage. “This spinning state could be caused by blockages in arteries that lessen blood pressure or by faulty valves that cannot maintain blood pressure,” says Miller.
- Depression: When it comes to your health even unrelated symptoms might point to deeper messages about your health, “mental well-being is linked to physical well-being; many studies suggest that people who are depressed are at greater risk of heart trouble.”
- Migraines: “Sometimes a headache is just a headache,” but when headaches become regular migraines a connection to a dysfunction of the heart is possible.
- You can hear your heartbeat as you fall asleep: While this may be related to “low blood pressure, low blood sugar, anemia, medication, dehydration, and other causes” the thumping of your heart when you lay down at night may be related to heart disease.
Have a heart-to-heart with your doctor
In all cases, it is best to sit down with your doctor to discuss signs and symptoms. With your doctor’s advice, map out a conclusive preventative plan that will work best for you, and in today’s technical society, sometimes your doctor is just a click away.
“More and more physicians are encouraging patients to email questions and concerns between medical visits,” said Barry Jacobs, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and Director of Behavioral Sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Springfield, Pennsylvania. “Whatever the mode of communication, patients still need to be willing to voice doubts and confusion to work effectively.”
Observation, communication and following a doctor’s plans are key to preventing heart disease.