Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 26 percent of deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, each year 785,000 Americans will have a first heart attack, while another 470,000 will have a second (or third, fourth, etc.) attack.
Needless to say, a staggering number of people are being affected by this disease, to the tune of over $316 billion in costs for health care services, medications and lost productivity. Of course, if you suffer from heart disease or a heart attack, the impact on your life can take a toll that's much greater than that, in the form of serious disability or even death.
Knowing the warning signs for heart disease is essential for all Americans, as the sooner you notice there may be a problem, the sooner you can take steps to fix it.
3 EARLY Heart Disease Warnings Signs to be Aware Of
1. Erectile Dysfunction
In men, erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an early warning sign of heart disease. In fact, about two-thirds of men with erectile dysfunction will go on to develop heart disease, typically within two to three years. A heart attack or stroke can occur within three to five years of the onset of ED, according to a review in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.
Researcher Graham Jackson, MD, a cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital in London, told WebMD:
"Erectile dysfunction can be an early marker of coronary disease which is asymptomatic, so it could predict a cardiac event in the next two to five years. Erectile dysfunction may be associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and all the other risk factors for a coronary event [that] may not have been detected, but erectile dysfunction gives us a chance to find risk factors and treat before they become a major problem."
2. Diagonal Crease in Earlobe
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that this is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, as it may signal blocked circulation throughout your body. If you notice this sign, contact your doctor for a heart health checkup.
3. Male Pattern Baldness
Hair loss in the crown of the head is associated with a higher risk of heart attack, chest pain and coronary artery problems, especially if high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are also present. This may be due to fluctuations in hormone levels or problems with circulation in both the hair follicles and heart.
16 Signs of More Imminent Heart Disease and Heart Attack
Often heart disease poses no warning signs whatsoever ... until a heart attack occurs. This is why it's really important to take steps to keep your heart healthy even if you don't have any signs or symptoms.
That said, in some cases heart disease does illicit warning signs, which can be quite varied depending on the type of heart disease present. These include:
- Chest pain or pain that spreads to shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms
- Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, racing, pounding or fluttering
- A slow heartbeat
- Fainting or near fainting
- Easily becoming short of breath during exercise or activity, or even at rest
- Built-up fluid in the heart or lungs
- Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet
- Bloating (distention) of the abdomen with fluid
- Back pain
In the case of a heart attack, the pain may come on suddenly and severely, or it may be more mild and gradual. If you experience any of the following symptoms, even if they're mild, it's important to get help immediately, as you could be having a heart attack:
- Chest discomfort (including pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that may come and go)
- Pain or discomfort in your arms (one or both), back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
The Best Route for Heart Disease Prevention
Remember, a heart attack is often the first "warning" sign of heart disease, so it's in your best interest to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.
By now most of you probably know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in unhealthy fats, like trans fats, will help protect your heart. But what you may not know is just how damaging seemingly innocuous foods like white bread, rice, pizza and other processed foods can be.
In reality, women who eat more carbohydrate-rich food like white bread and rice are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than women who eat less of these items, according to Italian researchers.
These high-glycemic index carbs turn quickly into sugar in your body, which leads to unhealthy spikes in blood sugar. This is the same mechanism that, in time, can also lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, which a new study also found can double your risk of developing blood vessel diseases or suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
So if you want to keep your heart healthy, one of the best choices you can make is to replace processed foods in your diet with fresh, whole foods, and ideally raw foods.
Along with a diet that focuses on fresh, raw foods, you'll also want to be sure you're consuming plenty of omega-3 fats. The omega-3s found in fish and fish oils cut the risk of blood clots and thus lessen the chance of a heart attack.
Exercise and Stress Relief Also Important
Regular exercise, aiming for 30 minutes of exercise each day, is essential for a healthy heart. Ideally, include a range of activities in your routine, including aerobics, strength training and flexibility work.
To keep stress levels at bay look into various options like yoga and relaxation CDs. Such simple programs can help you to embark on a practice for transforming your stress into life-enhancing experiences.
International Journal of Clinical Practice;64(7):848-57.
Archives of Internal Medicine;160:165-171.
MayoClinic.com Heart Disease Symptoms
American Heart Association
CDC.gov Heart Disease Facts