Unusual Heart-Related Symptoms You Should Talk to Your Doctor About—Stat

Don't ignore these signs.

Senior woman exercising taking pulse
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Understanding your body's baseline is important—it helps you to identify signs or symptoms that are abnormal, so you can seek help accordingly. If you experience anything beyond that baseline, you should give your doctor a call; this is particularly true when a potential health concern involves your heart. Certain heart-related symptoms are easy to miss—some of them, like fatigue, might stem from dozens of other issues—but others aren't, and they often spell trouble.

According to Dr. Garima Sharma, a cardiologist affiliated with Johns Hopkins and medical volunteer for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women initiative, one of the more common heart-related issues that women experience—and should flag to their doctors, stat—is atrial fibrillation (AFib). This, explains Dr. Sharma, is an irregular heartbeat that can ultimately lead to clotting and increased stroke risk. "Some of the more common symptoms of AFib include fatigue, a rapid and irregular heartbeat, fluttering in the chest, dizziness, or shortness of breath," she says. "If any of this is sudden—or unusual for you—you should seek medical advice immediately."

Of course, the diagnosis isn't always AFib, which is why reporting any heart-related symptom, aforementioned or otherwise, to a medical professional is key. Dr. Sharma notes that other unusual signs that could be related to a heart issue include persistent coughing and wheezing, a buildup of excess fluid (particularly in the ankles) resulting in swelling, and lack of appetite. And if you experience several of these symptoms at once? Dr. Sharma suggests sharing them with your doctor and asking for an evaluation of your heart, even if you haven't previously been diagnosed with a condition. It's important to address these concerns in a timely matter, she notes, and to call 911 if something just isn't right: "Just like with men, women most commonly report feeling chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack," she says, "but women are somewhat more likely than men to experience other common symptoms—particularly shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain."

Even if you're fit, healthy, and active, you should still be on the look out for heart-related issues. "Heart disease is indiscriminate and can affect anyone at any age and any stage of their life," Dr. Sharma says. "Ask your doctor for an EKG at your annual physical (and make sure you don't skip it). This will show your doctor if anything concerning comes up and allow for referral to a cardiologist or further treatment." When it comes to matters of the heart, Dr. Sharma says you should always listen to your body and take your symptoms seriously. "Anything concerning your heart [should prompt you to] seek urgent medical treatment," she says. "It may turn out to be nothing, but it's better to be sure."

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