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If You Feel This, You May Have Heart Trouble, Experts Warn

Here’s what heart problems often feel like.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Knowing the signs and symptoms of heart trouble can literally make the difference between life and death. "It is important to educate the public about the symptoms and risk factors for heart disease as well as stroke to prevent these events from occurring," says Marie (Dominique) Ashen, Ph.D., CRNP, nurse-practitioner of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins. Here are five signs of heart trouble, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Chest Pain

Sick woman feeling chest pain and wearing face mask in a lobby at medical clinic.

Angina—when not enough blood can get to the heart—is one of the most common signs of heart issues, experts warn. "It is an extremely common symptom of coronary artery disease, which is caused by cholesterol-clogged coronary arteries," says Harvard Health. "This is the network of arteries that nourish the heart muscle."


Restless Legs Syndrome

older woman with leg pain
Shutterstock / AstroStar

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), is a neurological sleep disorder where a strong urge is felt to move your legs when you lay down. "Iron deficiency is a common cause that can be successfully treated with iron supplements," says interventional cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. "We also know that both men and women with RLS are likely to have Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and sleep apnea—all of which increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack."



tired woman falling asleep on couch

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder where extreme daytime drowsiness occurs, and is strongly linked to heart disease. "More research is needed to better understand the association between narcolepsy and heart health, but a number of factors may be at play," says the American Heart Association. "For most people, blood pressure lowers naturally during sleep, a phenomenon called nocturnal dipping. This is regulated by a protein called hypocretin, which is often deficient in people with narcolepsy. Research suggests an absence or reduction in this nocturnal dipping may increase risk for cardiovascular disease. Moreover, people with narcolepsy often also have conditions such as diabetes, depression and obesity, which are independently associated with heart disease."


Breathing Issues

cardiac disease risk

Chronic breathing issues could be a symptom of heart problems, experts warn. "It's easy to ignore breathlessness as a sign that we're simply getting old or unfit," says Peter Leslie Weissberg, CBE, FRCP, FMedSci. "When you do moderate-intensity exercise like cycling or brisk walking, it's normal to breathe a bit harder – although you should still be able to speak. But feeling out of breath while doing everyday activities, especially if you haven't experienced this before, could be a sign of a potentially serious heart condition. Common, treatable heart conditions such as coronary heart disease (the cause of heart attacks), heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation can all cause breathlessness."


Clubbed Fingernails and Toes

worried woman looking at hands fingers

If you notice clubbing on the toes or fingernails, it could be a sign of heart problems. "It's one of the first things they teach you at medical school," says Professor David Bonthron of the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine. "You shake the patient by the hand, and take a good look at their fingers in the process."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan