So, what are some of the early signs of heart disease? And what should you do if you experience them? My advice, is to recommend that you seek medical attention, if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chest Pain - often described as tightness, pressure, squeezing or aching beneath the breastbone (angina) – Don’t assume that you are experiencing this due to stress.
- Shortness of Breath with or without exertion – Don’t assume you are just out of shape.
- Extreme or unusual fatigue – Don’t assume you are just busy with work and life’s demands.
- Discomfort in the arms, legs, back, neck, jaw or stomach – Don’t assume that you worked out too hard or you caught a bug – these symptoms can occur when your heart isn’t getting enough oxygen.
Symptoms often come and go for some time, but don’t assume because they come and go, that they are not important.
Some people report that they “just don’t feel right” – they can’t pin point it but they know their own body. If this is your situation, get checked out.
Other symptoms, which in some cases, may be quite prominent, include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, cold sweat, or lightheadedness.
Having a family history of early heart disease, defined as a cardiac event occurring in males under the age of 55 or in females under the age of 65 is an important risk factor. Family history is important not only because of a shared environment but more importantly, especially in the case of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), shared genetics.
Individuals with FH are at a much higher risk for heart disease due to the burden of elevated cholesterol levels during their lifetime. This causes plaque or fatty deposits to occur in arteries. Males with untreated FH have a 50% chance of having a heart attack before the age of 50. And 30% of untreated women with FH will have experienced a heart attack by 60. I have highlighted untreated because this is so important to emphasize. Studies from Holland reveal a dramatic reduction in risk of future cardiac events with early treatment of FH with cholesterol lowering medication. Clinical trials using statins have shown for every 40 mg/dL reduction in LDL-C the risk for cardiovascular disease decreases by 20% over the next 10 years.
Having FH can feel scary at times, but with early detection of FH along with today’s advancements in cholesterol lowering medications, not smoking, following a healthy eating plan and engaging in regular exercise you can minimize your risk for heart disease.