If you’re in good health, no matter what your age, your doctor may have told you not to worry about your heart. But that well-meaning advice could have serious, unintended consequences. The exact causes of cardiovascular disease have yet to be identified—and for many people, “the first symptom is sudden death,” says Steven Nissen, MD, chair of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
That’s why Dr. Bradley F. Bale, co-founder of the Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention Center, encourages everyone to partner with their health care providers to create a personalized plan that can catch the early signs of cardiovascular disease before it becomes a silent killer.
We All Need World Heart Day
Cardiovascular disease is a global health problem. In May of 2012, leaders from countries around the world came together to commit to reducing mortality from all non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by one-quarter by 2025. Cardiovascular disease accounts for close to half of all NCD deaths and is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Each year on September 20th for World Heart Day, created by the World Health Federation, organizations and individuals across the globe highlight the actions we can all take to reduce the number of lives lost to cardiovascular disease—17.5 million annually. The aim of World Heart Day is to encourage people to eliminate lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking, an unbalanced diet, and lack of physical activity. Estimates indicate that addressing those factors alone could prevent nearly 80 percent of all premature deaths from heart disease and stroke!
3 Strange Signs of Heart Health Problems
You probably know that it’s important to track your cholesterol and triglyceride levels (though whether you actually do so is another story…), but research has identified other, less obvious symptoms and indicators of potential heart problems.
- Bad breath: first of all, we’re not talking about the kind that follows an onion-heavy meal, but rather the kind that’s caused by gum disease. According to findings published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the same inflammatory processes linked to gum disease can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Yet another reason to take good care of your teeth!
- Light-headedness: do you often feel dizzy after standing up? Technically known as orthostatic hypotension, this feeling usually dissipates within seconds. A study published by Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal, indicated that if it lasts for a minute or more, and especially if you’re under 55 years of age, you may be dealing with a blood flow issue. Furthermore, the study found that individuals who experience lasting light-headedness after standing are 54 percent more likely to also experience heart failure later on.
- A short ring finger: as strange as it sounds, the length ratio between your ring and index fingers may be an important indicator of your risk of heart disease. Longer ring fingers result from greater fetal exposure to testosterone, a known factor that lowers risk of heart disease among men. Research published in Medical Hypotheses found that individuals with smaller ring-to-index finger ratios are more likely to develop heart disease in their 40s and 50s than those with longer ratios, though the connection seems stronger for men than for women.
On their own, none of these are symptoms of acute heart problems, but they can be important reminders to talk with a trusted health practitioner about assessing your risk.
What Heart Attacks Look Like in Real Life
When we think of the signs of heart attack, we think of the movie version. Some heart attacks are that sudden and intense, and in those cases, there’s little doubt about what’s happening. In real life, it’s much more likely that a heart attack will start slowly. At first, you may feel only discomfort or mild pain. Because of this, people can wait longer than they should to seek medical attention.
Women are especially likely to brush off the symptoms of a heart attack, which can manifest quite differently from the “classic” symptoms typically experienced by men. The most common symptom of heart attack in women is also chest pain and discomfort, but secondary warning signs include…
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaw pain
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
“I really couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” heart attack survivor Amy Heinl told Go Red for Women. “I thought of myself as a healthy person, and was exercising when it happened.”
If you or a loved one experiences any signs or symptoms of a heart attack you should immediately dial 9-1-1 (or the medical emergency number for the country where you are) and follow the operator’s instructions.
The Best Way to Treat Heart Problems? Prevent Them!
While prompt medical attention can absolutely improve your odds of surviving a heart attack, the best way to safeguard your heart health is to take preventative action. Making healthy living a priority can have remarkable effects!
Even if you believe in the benefits of making big changes, it can be difficult to put them into practice. The good news is that small shifts to your daily routine can profoundly improve your health. One of the key messages of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Heart Plan is that you can jumpstart your heart health by making simple changes in three key areas. The plan—called “Eat 5, Move 10, Sleep 8”—can be summarized as follows:
- Eat 5: this refreshing piece of back-to-basics diet advice advises that you worry less about avoiding “bad” foods and focus instead on including five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This will likely mean including at least one serving per meal and choosing fruits and veggies as between-meal snacks. Remember, too, that a serving may be bigger than you think—for instance, a serving of berries is one full cup.
- Move 10: while government recommendations hold that you should be making time for thirty minutes or more of physical activity daily, research tells us that even ten minutes makes a difference. In fact, between 60 and 90 minutes weekly can reduce your heart disease risk by half! If you do have time for more physical activity, that’s wonderful, but don’t discount the benefits of a quick walk or even just taking the stairs.
- Sleep 8: many of us struggle to make time for sleep, even if we know how important it is. Your heart needs good quality sleep to function properly. The exact amount of sleep each individual needs varies, but eight hours is a good baseline goal for almost everyone.
Last but not least, if you’re serious about your heart health, you should consider adding potent, heart-health promoting supplements to your daily routine. Choosing the right supplement for you—like this blend of seven nutrients shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, or this $20 million dollar research breakthrough shown to prevent plaque build-up in your arteries—may just be the easiest step you can take to protect and optimize the health of your heart throughout your lifetime.