A new American Heart Association scientific statement published in Circulation reported symptoms of 6 conditions related to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and said that men and women often experience different symptoms.
The statement, which reviewed recent research, also highlighted how symptoms are experienced over time, which could be months or years apart and with different intensity and severity.
“Symptoms of these cardiovascular diseases can profoundly affect quality of life, and a clear understanding of them is critical for effective diagnosis and treatment decisions. The scientific statement is a ‘state of the science’ compendium detailing the symptoms associated with CVD, similarities or differences in symptoms among the conditions, and sex differences in symptom presentation and reporting,” Corrine Y. Jurgens, PhD, RN, ANP, FAHA, an associate professor at Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing, said in a statement.
Symptoms may go unrecognized or unreported if individuals do not think they are important or related to an existing health condition, investigators said.
Some CVD symptoms, such as chest pain, are recognizable, while others, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and sweating, are more uncommon.
“Research indicates that subtle symptoms such as these may predict acute events and the need for hospitalization. A broader definition of what constitutes an ‘important’ symptom is warranted,” Jurgens said. “Establishing a baseline symptom profile for an individual and tracking symptoms over time may be helpful to detect changes and any progression of symptoms.”
The committee reviewed the following conditions which vary over time and by sex:
- Artery and vein diseases. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) may have no symptoms; however, it can also cause claudication, which is pain in 1 or both calf muscles that occurs while walking. Pain in other parts of the leg, as well as the feet and toes, are more common symptoms. Depression also occurs for those with PAD, especially the elderly, those in diverse ethnic and racial groups, and women. Peripheral vein disease may also have no symptoms or may be associated with leg pain. Leg-related symptoms include achiness, cramping, fatigue, heaviness or tightness in legs, and skin irritation. Those who are younger than aged 65 years are more likely to report achiness, fatigue, heaviness, and pain. Additionally, women are more likely to report pain in places other than the calf muscles, as well as no symptoms.
- Heart attack. Frequently reported symptoms include chest pain and discomfort or pressure in the arms, jaw, shoulder, or upper back. It can include a cold sweat, fatigue, lightheadedness, nausea, shortness of breath, or sweating, which are all considered “atypical.” However, the American Heart Association said that this label could be due to the lack of women included in clinical trials, who were reported more likely than men to have these reported symptoms.
- Heart failure (HF). Shortness of breath is a common symptom. However more subtle symptoms, such as cognitive issues, insomnia, an upset stomach, and vomiting, should be signs that it is time to see a health care physician. Women who have HF are also more likely to report anxiety, depression, digestive changes, lower quality of life, sweating, and swelling.
- Rhythm disorder.: Also called arrhythmias, this can cause an abnormal heartbeat or palpitations that are fast, fluttering, halting, or irregular. Other symptoms can include dizziness, fatigue, or shortness of breath, but less common symptoms can include anxiety, chest pain, dizziness, or fainting. Men are more likely to experience no symptoms, while women and younger adults are more likely to experience palpitations. Those who are older are more likely to experience either less common or no symptoms. The committee also reported that Black adults experience more chest discomfort, dizziness, exercise intolerance, palpitations, and shortness of breath.
- Stroke. Symptoms that require immediate medical attention, according to the American Stroke Association recommends, include arm weakness, face drooping, and speech difficulty. However, other symptoms include confusion, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, and visual changes. Women experiencing a stroke are more likely to experience altered mental states, comas, headaches, or stupors, according to the committee.
- Valve disease. This common cause of HF causes shortness of breath. In mild cases, individuals could have no symptoms for years. HF can also cause high blood pressure or pulmonary hypertension. Men with valve disease are more likely to report chest pain than women.
“Symptom relief is an important part of managing cardiovascular disease,” Jurgens said.
“It is important to recognize that many symptoms vary in occurrence or severity over time, that women and men often experience symptoms differently, and factors such as depression and cognitive function may affect symptom detection and reporting,” she said. “Monitoring and measuring symptoms with tools that appropriately account for depression and cognitive function may help to improve patient care by identifying more quickly people who may be at higher risk.”
Report outlines most common symptoms of 6 cardiovascular diseases. News release. EurekAlert. August 18, 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/961843