SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- Heart disease can manifest in many different ways. Most people are familiar with the description of an “elephant sitting on the chest” as a sign of angina and possible heart attack. Unfortunately, that is only one of many symptoms that can come with heart disease.
Knowing some of the unusual symptoms, and, more importantly, “trusting your gut” and seeking help right away when something does not feel right, can help to save your life and the lives of others.
Angina or chest pain due to blocked arteries, can be notoriously vague and difficult to pinpoint. With angina, pain or discomfort can be felt in the upper abdomen, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, throat, lower jaw and teeth. Angina can be mistaken for heartburn/acid reflux, inflammation of the gall bladder, arthritis, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and more.
Silent Heart Attack and Silent Ischemia
Heart attack and ischemia, lack of oxygen to the heart muscle, can be especially difficult to detect in people with diabetes. So-called “silent ischemia” and “silent heart attack” can happen without the person having any symptoms. This is due to nerve damage known as neuropathy that is prevalent in diabetic patients.
Heart Failure and Arrhythmia
Other heart diseases such as heart failure, when the weakened heart muscle cannot pump blood as well as it should, and arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, can also present with symptoms that can be mistaken for something else.
Patients who experience “cardiac wheeze” or “cardiac asthma" may think they are having asthma attacks, when in fact they are experiencing symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Another example of an unusual symptom is unexplained weight gain, especially when it happens suddenly. The weight gain is often a result of fluid accumulation in the body due to heart failure. It may be present in the legs or abdomen, and can precede symptoms of shortness of breath.
Last but not least, arrhythmia can sometimes be mistaken as “anxiety” or a “panic attack" out the door every day.
It is impossible to know all of the unusual ways heart disease can present. However, the most important thing to know is to seek help, whether at the emergency room or the doctor’s office, when symptoms are new, unusual, persistent or severe.
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