Many people consider shortness of breath, nausea or light-headedness indications of exhaustion. In reality, they may be experiencing the effects of heart disease.
“Cardiovascular diseases include diseases of the heart and blood vessels,” explains Tyler Cymet, DO, an osteopathic family physican from Baltimore. “Heart and blood vessel problems develop over time and occur when arteries that supply the heart or brain with blood slowly become clogged from a buildup of cells, fat and cholesterol.“
An estimated 83.6 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. Types of cardiovascular disease include coronary heart disease, which includes heart attack and chest pain; stroke; heart failure; atrial fibrillation and high blood pressure.
“While most of us are familiar with high blood pressure and recognizing cardiac arrest, the symptoms of heart attack and stroke are not as well-known,” states Dr. Cymet.
When the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is reduced or stopped, a heart attack may occur. A heart attack is commonly the result of a blockage prohibiting the coronary arteries from supplying blood to the heart muscle.
“It is extremely important to call 911 immediately if you suspect that someone is suffering from a heart attack,” explains Dr. Cymet. “A patient’s chances of survival are greatly increased if emergency treatment is administered quickly.”
Some warning signs of a heart attack include:
Chest discomfort: Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back.
Discomfort in the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath: May occur with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs: Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
“Drugs that were unavailable to patients in years past can be effective in stopping some heart attacks and strokes in progress, reducing disability and saving lives,” explains Dr. Cymet. “But to be effective, even the best products must be administered quickly, so get help immediately.”
Strokes occur when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked or bursts. “When the brain is starved of blood and oxygen it begins to deteriorate,” clarifies Dr. Cymet. “Whatever part of the body controlled by the deteriorating section of the brain is immediately affected and that is what we see as symptoms.”
Some signs of a stroke include:
Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
Severe headache with no known cause.
If you or someone you are with experiences one or more of these symptoms, get help immediately. “As you are dialing 911, check your watch so that you can report the time the symptoms began occurring to the emergency physician,” advises Dr. Cymet. “If the patient receives care within three hours of the start of symptoms, long-term disability could be avoided.”
Dr. Cymet stresses the best way to prevent brain damage, physical disability or any damages from cardiovascular diseases is to recognize the symptoms and seek help immediately.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.