What are the initial symptoms of heart disease, and what other reasons might you have to visit a cardiologist?
(Please note that all the underlying symptoms may have non-cardiac causes, and non-serious cardiac causes, and do not always signify a serious problem)
Heart Disease Symptoms
Any discomfort that is brought on by exertion and/or stress may suggest an underlying cardiac cause. The main concern that requires investigating is whether there is a restriction of the blood supply to the heart from narrowed arteries. Cardiac pain is not always limited to the chest – patients may report discomfort in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back.
Shortness of Breath
Symptoms of shortness of breath with exertion, or at rest, can be secondary to a heart problem. Depending on the history, investigations would be undertaken to ensure that the heart is:
- In a normal rhythm
- Structurally and functionally working normally
- Receiving an adequate blood supply
Palpitations are an awareness of your heartbeat. This can take the form of forceful beats, fast, or irregular beats. An abnormality of the rhythm of the heart needs to be ruled out. If palpitations are associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or blackouts, or if they occur on exertion, they should be investigated as a matter of urgency.
Any loss of unconsciousness must be investigated. The concern is that the blackout has occurred as a result of a reduction in the blood pressure to the brain. Symptoms of dizziness or blackouts on exertion must be investigated as a matter of urgency.
Other reasons to see a cardiologist
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. If you have been found to have elevated blood pressure, the diagnosis needs to be confirmed and investigations performed to assess for any damage to the organs such as the heart and kidneys. Very high blood pressure can be a medical emergency.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. Further investigations may be indicated, and treatment may recommended, particularly if other risk factors are present.
A murmur is an extra sound, usually caused by turbulent flow within your heart, that is heard when a Doctor examines you. Most murmurs are harmless but can be caused by a valve in the heart that is either restricting the passage of blood, or leaking and allowing blood back through the valve.
Family History of Heart Disease or Sudden Cardiac Death
If a first degree relative has had any of the following under the age of 60:
- heart attack
- cardiac procedure such as a stent or bypass operation
- sudden cardiac death
It may be worth considering investigations to see if you have a cardiac condition, or are at risk of developing one.
Abnormal Resting and/or Exercise Electrocardiogram (ECG)
An ECG is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart. It can also provide information on the structure and function of the heart. You may have had an ECG as part of a health screen, or as part of a work up to an operation under a general anaesthetic. If the ECG is reported as abnormal, it may not necessarily represent a serious problem, but should be investigated further.