Certain symptoms, even if they seem mild, may be indications that your heart isn't healthy. But what may feel like mild discomfort can eventually become life threatening. If you don't currently have symptoms, but you have cardiac risk factors or lifestyle issues that increase your risk of heart problems, working with a cardiologist can help keep you healthy. You should see a cardiologist if you are experiencing any symptoms or are aware of other risk factors that may signal underlying heart disease.
Shortness of Breath
You should see your doctor or a cardiologist if you experience chronic shortness of breath or fainting, either of which can be a sign of congestive heart failure. Although shortness of breath also can be a symptom of asthma, anxiety, low blood pressure, anemia, or pneumonia, the cause may be heart attack, congestive heart failure (COPD), or other heart dysfunction.
Depending on the severity, you may need emergency medical care, especially if shortness of breath comes on suddenly and you also experience chest pain, nausea, dizziness, or fainting. Even if shortness of breath isn't severe, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist if the condition worsens; your feet and ankles swell; you have trouble breathing when you lie flat; or you have a fever, chills, and cough.
If you experience what feels like indigestion or pain or pressure in your chest, you could have a blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Chest heaviness is a symptom you should not ignore, as it could be a sign that you are having a heart attack. Tightness that feels like it's restricting your breathing and is accompanied by pain in the shoulder, back, or jaw often is a symptom of heart attack. Even if you aren't having a heart attack, but you won't know until a doctor examines you. Asthma, panic attacks, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause symptoms similar to those of a heart attack.
Frequent heart palpitations—your heart skips beats or beats too hard or too fast—can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. You do not necessarily have to feel the palpitations in your chest. Instead, you may feel them in your throat or neck, and they can occur even when you are sitting or lying down.
Although anxiety, stress, medications such as decongestants, thyroid disease, and heavy exercise can cause arrhythmia, you should see a cardiologist to rule out an underlying heart problem. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol also can cause heart palpitations; however a cardiologist will determine if the symptom is related to heart disease or is triggered by another medical condition or lifestyle factor.
A family history of cardiovascular disease puts you at higher risk for heart problems, especially if one of your parents had a heart attack at a young age. Your family history not only increases your risk of heart disease, but it also increases the likelihood that you may have the same risk factors for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. If high blood pressure, diabetes, or high blood cholesterol runs in the family, you are at increased risk for developing the same health issues. These same genetic factors increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
You should see a cardiologist if you have:
- A congenital heart condition
- Had a previous heart attack
- Cardiovascular or coronary artery disease
- Had stenting, valve replacement, or other heart procedure in the past
- Hypertension or high cholesterol levels
- Other potential risk factors such as smoking, obesity, or uncontrolled diabetes
Heart disease never goes away; therefore, it requires continuous monitoring and treatment.