Seven Signs of an Unhealthy Heart

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Seven Signs of an Unhealthy Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Having diabetes puts you at a higher risk of heart disease compared with people who don’t have diabetes. There’s no better time than now to focus on keeping your heart — and blood vessels — as healthy as possible! Learn about some of the signs that could indicate you have heart disease.

Seven signs of an unhealthy heart

Heart disease is a term that can refer to several types of heart conditions, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, and this condition can decrease blood flow to the heart. When this happens, a heart attack is more likely to occur. Heart failure is another type of heart disease.

Sign #1: You feel much more tired than usual for no reason.

Fatigue can occur for many reasons – lack of sleep, illness, stress – even high blood sugars can make you tired. But if you find that getting through your daily activities tires you to the point that you have to sit or lie down, or if you have sudden, severe weakness, it could be a sign of heart trouble.

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Sign #2: You notice pain, achiness, or discomfort in your thighs, calves, or feet when you’re walking or exercising.

Pain or achiness might result from arthritis, injury, or simply overdoing an activity, but if you notice that these symptoms keep appearing, and if they go away when you’re at rest, it could be due to circulation problems in your legs. Blockages in the arteries in your legs, called peripheral artery disease (PAD), can cause these symptoms.

Sign #3: You feel burning or tightness in your chest.

You might be inclined to pass of these symptoms as heartburn or indigestion. But if these symptoms last longer than a few minutes, and you have other risk factors for heart disease, they may be a sign of a blocked artery or even a heart attack. Never hesitate to seek medical care right away for chest discomfort.

Sign #4: You have nausea and vomiting, along with shortness of breath, and pain in the back.

Nausea and vomiting can occur from eating a bad batch of sushi or from a virus. But, when combined with other symptoms, like feeling short of breath and/or having pain in your back, shoulders, or jaw, head to the emergency room or call 911, as these are symptoms of a heart attack (especially if you’re a woman).

Sign #5: You notice that your ankles are swollen.

Swollen ankles, also called edema, is another possible sign of a heart problem. When your heart isn’t pumping blood efficiently, blood flow slows and backs up in the veins in your legs. This can lead to fluid buildup in both of your legs, making them look puffy and swollen. If you also have shortness of breath or have chest pain, call 911.

Sign #6: Your spouse or partner grumbles that you’re snoring very loudly and sometimes sound like you’re choking or gasping for breath.

Loud snoring, along with shallow breathing, gasping, or choking, are signs of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). You might even stop breathing for a few seconds or minutes. Sleep apnea can leave you feeling drowsy the next day, putting you at risk for automobile and work-related accidents. Diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, and smoking are all risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. Plus, OSA puts you at risk for heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and high blood pressure. Talk with your doctor if you think you have OSA. You may need to have a sleep study to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment may include losing weight, stopping smoking, and the use of a device such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

Sign #7: You have a constant “wet” cough that produces a pink mucus.

Coughing can result from any number of conditions, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or allergies. But if you continue to have a cough despite treatment for any of these conditions, you may need to be checked for heart failure, especially if your cough sounds wet and you’re coughing up mucus that is tinged with blood. A cough may be accompanied by shortness of breath during activity or when lying down, wheezing, and a “bubbly” feeling in your chest.

Classic symptoms of heart disease include a crushing chest pain, pain radiating down the left arm, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Always seek emergency medical care if you have these symptoms. But keep in mind that the above seven signs are clues that your heart may not be working as well as it should. Let your health care provider know if you have any symptoms that you’re not sure about.

Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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