Heart disease is biggest killer of Brits – the 11 early warning signs you need to know
With heart disease being the biggest killer in the UK, it’s important to know the early warnings to look out.
Professor David Newby, from the British Heart Foundation, says there are 11 symptoms you need to take seriously…
1. Chest pain
It’s the classic sign of a heart attack, yet many people don’t realise this could be a medical emergency.
Professor Newby says: “If you have chest pain and you feel extremely unwell, you should dial 999 and get an ambulance as soon as possible.
“If it’s a heart attack, it’s usually described as a heaviness, tightness or pressure in the chest; people will often describe it as ‘an elephant sat on my chest’ or ‘it felt like a tight band around my chest,’ that sort of constricting feeling.
“If chest pains occur when you are exerting yourself, but go away when you stop, that would suggest it’s more likely to be angina.
“That would still mean you should go and see a doctor, but you don’t have to call 999.”
2. Feeling sick
Of course, not every bout of nausea could mean a heart attack – but if it’s accompanied with pain then warning bells should be going off.
Professor Newby said: “If you experience intense chest pain even when you are just sitting around doing nothing and you are also feeling sick, that is the time to call for an ambulance.”
If you’re getting some discomfort, but not intense pain, as well as feeling sick, call NHS 111 for advice.
3. Stomach pain
It may feel a little like indigestion, but sometimes that ache could be the early signs of a heart attack.
Professor Newby says: “Because the heart, the gullet [the passage between your mouth and stomach] and the stomach are all lying right next to each other, the challenge, for both members of the public and doctors, is that a burning or indigestion-type pain and heart pain can be difficult to disentangle.
“You could call NHS 111 for advice – they have certain algorithms they apply, but they aren’t perfect as there are no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone.”
4. Feeling sweaty
Working up a sweat when you’ve been to the gym or because it’s a really hot day, is nothing to worry about.
But feeling hot and clammy along with chest pains is a sign that you should call an ambulance.
5. Leg pain
Professor Newby says: “If you get a gripping, cramping sensation in your calves when you are walking, it might be worth seeing your doctor, as that can be a marker of PAD (peripheral arterial disease).
“It’s most common in smokers and people who have diabetes.”
6. Arm pain
It’s not one you might associate with your heart – but a pain in your arm is another warning sign.
If the pain is going down the arm, especially on the left side, or it goes into the neck, that means it’s more likely to be heart-related than indigestion.
Prof Newby says: “If it doesn’t go away, or if you know you have heart disease and have used your GTN (glyceryl trinitrate) spray two or three times to no discernible effect, you should be seeking emergency medical advice.”
7. Jaw or back pain
For some, the pain can be in other unusual places like the jaw or back.
There is some evidence that women’s symptoms are more likely to vary from ‘classic’ chest pain, and we know that women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment.
8. Choking sensation
The word ‘angina’ actually means choking, says Prof Newby.
Sometimes the pain can be felt up in the throat and people tend to describe it as a choking sensation.
If it continues and you’ve not previously been diagnosed with a heart condition you should call 111, he says.
9. Swollen ankles
Prof Newby says swollen ankles should never be ignored – especially if they get really big.
He says: “It can be a marker of heart failure, but it is also very common and has lots of other causes.
“It could just as easily be from tablets you are taking – for example, blood pressure medication can lead to swollen ankles.”
10. Extreme fatigue
Feeling tired all the time can be a symptom of heart failure, as well as of other conditions.
Prof Newby says: “Many of my patients tell me they’re tired, whether they’ve got heart failure or not, whether they’ve got angina or not. It’s a difficult one, because it’s so non-specific.”
If you’re tired and you’ve been working long hours or staying up late, it’s probably not your heart.
But if you start experiencing extreme tiredness and your lifestyle hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to chat to your GP.
11. Irregular heartbeat
In most cases, a jumped heartbeat is usually benign, according to Prof Newby.
But if it’s going very fast and jumping around erratically then it’s probably time to see your GP.