Heart disease is a group of conditions related to your heart. Some are problems with the muscle itself, the valves, or how it beats, including cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure. Others affect your blood vessels, like hardened arteries and strokes. Unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, and smoking are often what lead to heart disease. So can high blood pressure, infections, and birth defects. But other things might surprise you.
1. Sleep Apnea
When your snoring is broken up by pauses in your breathing, your brain may not be getting enough oxygen. It will send signals to your blood vessels and heart to work harder to keep blood flow going. This raises your risk for high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, strokes, and heart failure. Fortunately, sleep apnea is treatable.
2. Dark Spot Under Nails
If you haven’t banged or hurt your finger or toe recently, little dots of blood trapped under your nail could point to an infection in the lining of your heart or valves, called endocarditis. You can also get these blood specks when you have diabetes, and people with that condition are two to four times more likely to have heart disease and strokes.
3. Sexual Problems
Some troubles in the bedroom could mean you have heart disease and a greater risk for a heart attack or stroke. Men with erectile dysfunction may have circulation problems related to high blood pressure or narrow arteries from cholesterol buildup. These blood-flow problems can also lessen a woman’s libido and ability to enjoy sex.
4. Poor Grip Strength
The strength of your hand may tell you something about the strength of your heart. Research suggests the ability to squeeze something well means a lower risk of heart disease. If it’s hard for you to grasp an object, odds are higher that you have or could develop problems. (But improving your grip strength alone won’t necessarily make your heart healthier.)
Lightheadedness is often a direct result of something wrong with your heart because it isn’t pumping enough blood to your brain. Dizziness could be a symptom of an abnormal rhythm, called an arrhythmia. Heart failure, meaning the weakening of the muscle, can also make you unsteady. Feeling woozy is one of the many lesser-known symptoms of a heart attack, too.
6. Trouble Breathing
Feeling short of breath can be a symptom of heart failure, an abnormal heart rhythm, or a heart attack. Tell your doctor if you struggle to catch your breath after doing things that used to be easy for you, or if it’s hard to breathe while lying down. Have chest pain, too? Call for help immediately.
7. Bleeding Gums
Experts don’t totally understand the link between gum disease and heart disease. But studies suggest that bleeding, swollen, or tender gums may lead to trouble with your ticker. One theory is that bacteria from your gums gets into your bloodstream and sets off inflammation in your heart. Having gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss, may also raise your chances of a stroke.
Don’t always chalk it up to poor sleep. Heart failure can leave you tired and drained, because the muscle no longer pumps well enough to meet your body’s needs. Watch for other symptoms, such as coughing and swelling, too, since feeling wiped out and weak can be a warning sign of many different conditions, including anemia, cancer, or even depression.