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Surprising Body Cues That Could Be a Heart Concern

Many of us brush off fatigue, shortness of breath and other issues as simple aging or we chalk them up to our hectic schedule. Research tells us they could be our body’s way of informing us something might be off with our heart health.

The classic signs of heart trouble—chest tightness, pressure or pain—are far from its only signals. People often fail to connect other symptoms they’re experiencing to their actual cause: the heart. This can result in failing to get the help they need for an emergency heart issue, like heart attack or stroke, or a critical delay in getting possible heart disease diagnosed and treated.

“Most people know their bodies better than any doctor does. In general, if you constantly feel something isn’t ‘right’ or isn't what you’re used to, that warrants medical attention,” says Parag Joshi, M.D., a cardiology fellow with the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Your whole body can be involved in sending the message that something’s wrong with your heart.

Direct (but Surprising) Signs of Heart Problems

Many heart-related body cues are closely linked to inadequate blood flow through the arteries to the heart. But signs like these may not seem obviously connected to the heart.

Jaw and neck pain

Chest pain doesn’t always center on the heart. It’s of concern when it radiates to the jaw and neck from the chest.

Nausea and bloating

Women in particular often describe this kind of discomfort, which can include vomiting, before they feel chest pain.

Overall fatigue

When your heart can’t pump effectively, less blood flows to your lungs and your muscles. Shortness of breath and fatigue when doing everyday activities, such as climbing stairs or walking across a parking lot, is a red flag.

Less Direct Signs of Heart Problems

Some problems may not have clear links to heart disease but are worth a heart checkup, especially if you have other risk factors for heart disease.

Sleep apnea

This temporary collapse of an airway puts a halt to breathing during sleep and has been linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack.

Cramping, aching or numbness in the calves when you walk

This kind of leg pain, which is felt when you exercise and stops when you stop, can be a sign of peripheral vascular disease (PVD), a circulation disorder. People with PVD often have atherosclerosis, the buildup of damaging plaque in the arteries.