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Healthy Heart

Know Your Risks

Heart Disease: Do You Know the Warning Signs?

Man hold his hand over his heart
Q&A
How can I tell if my heart symptoms are serious?

"In general, if you notice any signs or symptoms that may indicate that you are having a heart attack or stroke, take action," says Ashen. "People often say they don't want to bother anyone, or they tell themselves 'it's nothing,' but you don't want to delay if it's a heart attack or stroke." 

Sometimes the first sign someone has that something is wrong with his or her heart health is a heart attack. “It is important to educate the public about the symptoms and risk factors for heart disease as well as stroke to prevent these events from occurring,” says Dominique Ashen, Ph.D., CRNP, nurse-practitioner of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins. The symptoms and risk factors for heart disease can lead to stroke and heart failure as well as heart attack.

See how much you know about the warning signs of heart disease.

1. What's the most common sign of heart disease?

a. Rapid heartbeat
b. Chest pain
c. Difficulty breathing

b. Chest pain. While all of these are signs of heart disease, chest pain is the most common sign. Also known as angina, it can feel like a dull pressure or a sharp pressing or stabbing pain, which may or may not radiate to the jaw, neck, back, or arms. Other common signs include palpitations (rapid heartbeat), shortness of breath, weakness, nausea, and sweating.

2. How are warning signs of heart attack different for men and women?

a. Men are more likely to feel pain in the center of the chest
b. Women are more likely to feel pain in various areas
c. They are always the same

b. Women are more likely to feel pain in various areas. For both sexes, pain in the center of the chest is the most common symptom of a heart attack. Both sexes may also feel pain in the back, neck, arms, or jaw, although this is more common in women. Women are also more likely to have nausea, indigestion, vomiting, and shortness of breath. (But men, too, can have these symptoms.)

3. Can you have a heart attack without having any warning signs?

Yes
No

Yes. It's most common to have episodes of chest pain upon exertion for months or years before a heart attack. But sometimes, the very first sign someone has that something is wrong with his or her heart health is a heart attack. Only half of women who have heart attacks first experience chest pain.

4. Which of these is a risk factor for heart disease?

a. Having belly fat
b. Being overweight
c. Being diabetic
d. Having metabolic syndrome
e. All of the above

e. All of the above. Keeping an optimal weight, exercising regularly, and following a heart-healthy diet are the base of your health pyramid, says Ashen. A solid base of health lowers your odds of many other top heart risk factors, like abdominal fat, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol.

5. If someone in your family has heart disease, does your doctor need to know this?

Yes
No

Yes. This is especially if a male relative had a heart attack before age 55, or a female before age 65—this is a risk factor for younger adults. Older relatives with heart disease may share lifestyle factors that raise your heart risk.

6. What's the handy acronym to remember the signs of stroke?

a. FAST
b. STROKE
c. ASAP

a. FAST. This acronym stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911.

Definitions

Risk factor: Anything that boosts your chances of getting a disease. For example, smoking is a risk factor for cancer, and obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.

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