5 heart problem signs - blog image

By Libby Pellegrini MMS, PA-C

It’s hard to miss the classic presentation of a heart attack—hands clutching the chest in agony, sweating, rapid breathing. Whether in movies, drug commercials, or television shows, popular media have likely drilled the warning signs into your head. Even more nuanced signs of a heart problem, such as neck, arm, or jaw pain, tend to get our attention in a hurry. However, some heart problems make themselves known with signs that are far more subtle. 

Don’t be caught off guard when it comes to protecting your own and your loved ones’ hearts. Read on to learn five signs of a heart problem that are worth worrying about. 

1. Passing Out with No Warning

Fainting can occur for many reasons, including exhaustion, emotional distress, illness, dehydration, rising quickly from a seated position, or a brain condition. Usually, such episodes of fainting, also known as syncope, come with warning signs such as lightheadedness, dizziness, weak legs, or tunnel vision. However, fainting without any preceding clues could be caused by an electrical heart problem.

Typically, electricity drives the normal functioning of the heart. However, when the heart’s chambers receive certain abnormal electrical signals, the chambers can start pumping out of sync, creating a condition called complete heart block. The heart rate slows and blood pressure drops, causing your heart to temporarily stop sending blood to your brain. This can cause you to faint.

The causes of heart block include structural abnormalities in the heart, inflammation, infection, heart attack, surgical procedures, certain genetic abnormalities, or certain medications. If you or a loved one is experiencing episodic fainting, follow up with a healthcare provider immediately.

2. Getting Winded During Normal Activities

If you notice a sudden change in your ability to perform your normal daily activities, such as grocery shopping or walking up a flight of stairs, it could be caused by a problem with your heart.

As a muscle, the heart contracts in a coordinated effort to pump blood throughout the body, pushing blood from chamber to chamber and then out to the body. If one of the valves between the chambers becomes too narrow (due to infection, cumulative damage, or a structural problem), the heart has to work harder to pump blood. This increased pumping effort can cause you to feel more tired than usual during your normal activities. 

One specific valve that can become too narrow is the aortic valve. This valve, which sits on the left side of the heart, is the doorway between the heart and the rest of the blood network. If your healthcare provider suspects you have this heart condition, known as aortic stenosis, he or she will listen to your heart with a stethoscope to check for a murmur and likely order an ultrasound of the heart to better evaluate what is going on. 

3. Fast Weight Gain Without Explanation

Some types of weight gain can be easily explained by a few too many holiday parties, an ice cream marathon, or a bum knee that derails a workout routine. However, rapid weight gain without explanation could be a sign of a heart problem called heart failure.

When the heart is pumping (which is all the time, hopefully!), it relies on a series of mechanisms to keep blood flowing throughout the body. Typically, this is a beautifully orchestrated feedback loop: the heart beats, pushing blood to the kidneys and other organs; the kidneys filter out waste and excess fluid, creating urine; and the blood then is returned to the heart. However, if the heart weakens, it can’t keep up with the cycle, triggering a backup in the plumbing system. Fluid will start to accumulate in the body, outside of the blood vessel network, in places such as the legs, abdomen, or lungs. Retaining excess fluid in this manner can cause sudden weight gain.

Heart failure can come on gradually or suddenly. There are many causes or risk factors, including coronary artery disease, cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, aging, infection, pregnancy, illicit drug use, and heart valve problems. Follow up with your healthcare provider for urgent evaluation if you are experiencing rapid weight gain that has no clear explanation.

4. Shortness of Breath When Lying in Bed

Shortness of breath that increases when you are lying flat can also be a sign of heart failure. When fluid backs up into the lungs, it can cause orthopnea, or feeling airless (short of breath) when lying down. Many people with heart failure will compensate by increasing the number of pillows they use to sleep so they are in a more upright position. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing this sign, follow up with your healthcare provider immediately for a thorough medical evaluation. Many people with heart failure are able to control their condition using medication. If you are prescribed a medicine, visit ScriptSave® WellRx to find the lowest prescription price.

5. Dizziness

Dizziness is a cardinal sign of many heart conditions, particularly problems with the heart’s rhythm. One common heart rhythm problem is atrial fibrillation, or “a-fib.” When the heart switches into a-fib, it beats rapidly in an irregularly erratic pattern, which results in inconsistent delivery of blood to the brain. This sporadic brain perfusion from the variability in blood delivery to the brain can cause the symptom of dizziness.

Atrial fibrillation can be caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, age, infection, or hormonal problems. If you or a loved one is feeling dizzy, especially if you also have a noticeably rapid heartbeat, seek medical attention immediately.

Putting It All Together

Some signs of a heart problem are subtle. If you are experiencing any of the five signs above, follow up with a medical provider immediately. If, after a thorough evaluation, you are diagnosed with a heart condition, you will likely be prescribed a medication. Make sure to check out ScriptSave WellRx at a pharmacy near you to receive the lowest prescription price. 


References:

Cleveland Clinic, Heart Block

Cardio Smart, American College of Cardiology, Aortic Stenosis

Mayo Clinic, Heart Failure

Harvard Health, Atrial Fibrillation

Libby Pellegrini is a nationally certified physician assistant. She currently works in emergency medicine, where she sees and treats a broad spectrum of illnesses across all age ranges. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. 



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Is your blood pressure too high?

by Rick Lasica, PharmD
Post-Graduate Year 1 Resident

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly 1 in every 3 adults in the United States. Hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer,”  because for the most part, hypertension doesn’t have any warning signs or symptoms. You might not even know you have it. If left untreated, hypertension increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So when is high blood pressure too high?

Blood Pressure by the Numbers

Blood pressure is reported as two numbers: systolic blood pressure (top number) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number). Systolic pressure is the pressure of your blood against the walls of your heart when it beats, while diastolic pressure is when it rests (between beats). Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 and pre-hypertension (the range before an actual diagnosis of hypertension) is between 120-139 for the top number and 80-89 for the bottom number. A consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 or greater means you have hypertension.

Preventing and Treating Hypertension

Luckily, there are many ways to prevent and treat hypertension. Lifestyle factors such as smoking tobacco, eating foods high in sodium, not exercising enough, being obese, and drinking alcohol, all increase the likelihood of developing hypertension. These are manageable risk factors that should be minimized or avoided. If all of these lifestyle factors for hypertension are modified in a positive manner and your blood pressure is still high, your doctor might start you on a medication to help it stay controlled. There are several classes of hypertension medications, all of which work differently in the body. Each class of medications works differently to lower your blood pressure, and has unique side effects you should be aware of. Your doctor or pharmacist can discuss these with you.

Common High Blood Pressure Medications

The angiotensin II receptor blocker Valsartan (Diovan) is one of the top high blood pressure medications, followed by the beta blocker Metoprolol Hydrocholorothiazide (Lopressor HCT), Olmesartan (Benicar), and Olmesartan and HCTZ (Benicar HCT).

Other frequently prescribed high blood pressure medications are the ACE inhibitor, Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), Amlodipine besylate (Norvasc), a calcium channel blocker, and the generic diureticHydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ).

See Your Doctor for High Blood Pressure

It’s important to see your healthcare provider regularly so that they can monitor your blood pressure. Let them know all of the medications you are taking, including anything that doesn’t require a prescription, such as herbals and supplements, since these might be contributing to your high blood pressure. Also, if a new medication to treat your high blood pressure is needed, they will work with you to find a blood pressure medication that doesn’t interact with a medication you might already be taking.

By working with your healthcare provider, you can keep your blood pressure under control to help ensure a long and healthy life!

Resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Mayo Clinic
  3. WebMD

For the best Rx price on all of your blood pressure medications,
visit www.WellRx.com.

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ScriptSave WellRx - American Heart Month exercise image

On average, someone dies of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) every 40 seconds. That is about 2,200 deaths of CVD each day. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women.February has been designated as American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease and how people can prevent it — both at home and in the community. It’s a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.

The term “heart disease” is used broadly to describe a number of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is a condition in which plaque, which is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other things in the blood, builds up inside the coronary arteries which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. If the plaque gets big enough, it can cause a heart attack or even sudden cardiac death.

Heart Disease Across the US

The statistics on the prevalence of CVD are staggering2:

  • 7 million, or 34.0% of US adults are estimated to have hypertension
  • 5 million, or 11.9% of US adults are estimated to have total serum cholesterol levels ≥240 mg/dL
  • 4 million, or 9.1% of US adults are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes
  • Stroke accounted for ≈1 of every 20 deaths in the United States
  • On average, someone in the US has a stroke every 40 seconds. This is about 795,000 new or recurrent stroke each year. On average, someone died of a stroke every 4 minutes.

The way to avoid becoming part of these statistics starts with some basic ideas. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t exercise, then it’s time to start (but talk to your doctor first). Strive for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each day. And if you’re eating high-fat fried foods, it’s time to give your diet a workout. Even the pharmacy chain, CVS, is making a move to carrying snacks without trans-fats, which have been linked to increases in heart disease, with its branded food products.

Heart Healthy Foods

The American Heart Association has identified foods that meet their certification program requirements. Research shows that eating these foods can lead to fewer heart disease risk factors.3 The Heart-Check mark, the front-of-package icon of the American Heart Association’s Food Certification Program, has been helping shoppers make healthier food choices for more than 20 years. It’s a useful tool for consumers constructing a healthier diet.

Whether you’re grocery shopping or dining out, the Heart-Check mark makes spotting heart-healthy foods simple. Some examples of foods in the Heart-Check Certification Program include4:

 Product  Company
 America’s Choice Roasted Turkey Breast  Smithfield Foods, Inc.
 Boar’s Head Black Forest SmokeMaster
Beechwood Smoked Ham
 Boar’s Head Provisions Company, Inc.
 Simply Orange Original Pulp Free 100% Orange Juice  The Coca-Cola Company
 Darling Clementines  LGS Specialty Sales LTD
 Fresh Sweet Potatoes (US grown, orange flesh varieties)  The United States Sweet Potato Council, Inc.

If you’re planning a grocery store trip, look for the Heart-Check mark and get started on the road to a healthier heart. And take the first important step – talk to your doctor about your risks.

References:

  1. NCHS. Deaths, percent of total deaths, and death rates for the 15 leading causes of death in 10-year age groups, by race and sex: United States, 1999-2013 .
  2. American Heart Association – https://newsroom.heart.org/events/february-is-american-heart-month-5712350
  3. Choosing foods that meet Heart-Check certification requirements linked to better diet quality, study finds https://news.heart.org/choosing-foods-that-meet-heart-check-certification-requirements-linked-to-better-diet-quality-study-finds/
  4. Heart-Check Food Certification Program  https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@fc/documents/downloadable/ucm_474830.pdf

For the best Rx price on Crestor (rosuvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin) and other statins,
or low prices on blood pressure medications,

visit www.WellRx.com.

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