Heart disease is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that affect the heart. Heart disease is also a term often used synonymously with cardiovascular disease, though the two reflect different conditions.
Cardiovascular disease generally involves the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, which can present with symptoms ranging from “typical” chest pain to shortness of breath and even to back pain, especially in women. These symptoms can signal a heart attack.
A 2019 report in the journal Circulation indicated that 121.5 million U.S. adults, or 48%, have some form of cardiovascular disease, while the CDC found that nearly 634,000 people died from it in 2015, making it the leading killer of Americans.
At Medinet Family Care Clinic in Houston and Sugar Land, Texas, Dr. Bharat Gandhi and Dr. Priya Gandhi take your heart health very seriously. They try to find practical solutions, including lifestyle changes, to minimize their patients’ risks of developing heart disease and they work hard to manage the condition if and when it’s diagnosed.
What is coronary artery disease?
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. Your coronary arteries are hollow tubes that carry oxygenated blood away from the heart and to the rest of the body.
Over time, fat and cholesterol, as well as inflammatory cells and cellular waste products, can build up along the arteries' walls, forming a plaque of hardened material. It makes the walls more rigid and narrows the space through which blood can flow. This is known as atherosclerosis.
Because of the narrowing, the heart muscle can't get the amount of blood or oxygen it needs. In addition, clots can form around the plaque; if they break off, they can travel to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke, respectively.
According to the American Heart Association, back pain is one symptom of a heart attack in progress. Back pain can also indicate stable or unstable angina. If the pain comes on suddenly, go to the emergency room.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
When people think about heart attack symptoms, they tend to picture someone clutching their chest in pain and keeling over. While chest pain — often described as a squeezing sensation or a crushing pressure — is the most common symptom of a heart attack, it’s by no means the only one. And what’s really interesting is that the symptoms are not always the same for women as for men.
Typical heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest discomfort
- Discomfort in other upper body areas
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
According to the Cleveland Clinic, women’s symptoms tend to appear more benign on the surface and so may go unreported until it’s too late. These include:
Not all fatigue is bad, but be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- You’re worn out after normal exercise
- You have fatigue or a “heavy chest” even without exertion
- Simple activities make you drop-dead tired
- You feel exhausted, but you have sleep disturbances
Sweating and/or shortness of breath
Look for the following symptoms:
- Sudden sweating or breathlessness without exertion
- Breathlessness that worsens when lying down and gets better when sitting up
- Sweating or shortness of breath along with chest pain or fatigue
Pain in the neck, back, and jaw
These symptoms are much more common in women than in men:
- Pain in either arm (men usually have only in the left)
- Pain in the lower or upper back that spreads from the chest
- Pain is sudden, not due to physical activity, and can wake you up
- Pain specific to the left, lower side of the jaw
Neck, back, and jaw pain together is an almost sure sign that you’re having a heart attack. Call 911.
Here at Medinet Family Care Clinic, we’re dedicated to preventing heart disease in our patients. To find out how to protect yourself, call us at either of our locations, or schedule an appointment online. We also offer television.