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6 Early Signs of a Heart Problem

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 23, 2022

6 Early Signs of a Heart Problem

Given that cardiovascular diseases can be fatal and debilitating, it’s crucial to detect a heart condition as soon as possible. What are the early signs of a heart problem that you should watch out for? Find out here.

Chest pain and other aches

The first warning sign of a heart problem is chest pain. But what kind of chest pain should you be wary of? Chest pain that’s possibly connected to heart trouble can be described in many ways. In some cases, patients feel that there’s something “very heavy” on their chest. For others, they notice a pinching or burning sensation.

The intensity also varies. Some patients only feel a mild discomfort, while others suffer from “crushing” heaviness. Sometimes, the pain even radiates to different parts of the body, such as the arms, jaw, back, shoulders, and tummy. It usually lasts for a few minutes and often happens during physical activity. When you take a break, the pain subsides.

Why it happens:

People experience chest pain because the heart is working harder than usual. Experts even describe chest pains as the heart’s way of “crying out” because it’s being asked to pump harder. If you experience severe pain, tightness, or pressure on your chest, seek medical help right away as it could indicate a heart attack.

early signs of a heart problem

Shortness of breath

The list of early signs of a heart problem includes shortness of breath. What’s concerning is that this warning symptom is often ignored because many people who experience it assume that it happens because they are out of shape.

Whenever you notice shortness of breath or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air, think of the activity you just did. Climbing several flights of stairs would really cause you to pant heavily, but if you went up just a couple of steps and you’re already gasping for air, there could be a problem.

Also, please note that shortness of breath can occur while you’re resting. Sometimes, it could even rouse you from sleep.

Why it happens:

Shortness of breath is usually an indication of heart failure. When the heart can’t pump as effectively as it should, the blood “backs up,” causing fluid leakage in the lungs. The leakage causes the feeling of “not getting enough air.”

Swollen feet and legs

Having swollen feet or legs (edema) is a clear red flag.

Unlike other symptoms linked to less serious problems (chest pain because of heartburn, difficulty breathing due to strenuous exercise, etc.), edema isn’t caused by many things.  Other than a heart condition, diseases related to the kidneys or liver can trigger the swelling.

To check if you have edema, pinch the swollen area. If the indentation stays for a few seconds, it could be a sign of heart failure.

Why it happens:

When the heart doesn’t work as effectively as before, fluid buildup occurs. It may start with the feet and legs and eventually extend to the groin and stomach area.

Palpitations or an uneven heartbeat

Before we discuss why palpitation is one of the early signs of a heart problem, let’s first clarify that in most cases, palpitations are harmless.

An irregular or fast heartbeat (arrhythmia) could happen due to a variety of reasons, like excessive intake of caffeine, anxiety, or even dehydration. However, having sudden palpitations while at rest is usually an indication that something is wrong.

In some cases, arrhythmia could be a sign of atrial fibrillation, which is a risk factor for stroke.

Why it happens:

An irregular or uneven heartbeat happens because the heart is not effectively pumping blood to different parts of the body. To compensate for the lack of blood flow, the heart will beat faster than normal in an attempt to keep up with the demand.

Random bouts of cold sweat

Another one of the early signs of a heart problem is experiencing random bouts of cold sweat.

Breaking out in a cold sweat while you’re at rest could be a sign of a heart attack. If you experience it together with chest pain and other symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical help right away. Similarly, bouts of cold sweat while at rest serve as a warning that the heart is overexerting itself.

Why it happens:

When the heart is working too hard, the body’s temperature may rise. Sweating is one way for the body to cool down.

Key Takeaways

Chest pain and other aches, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, edema, palpitation, and random bouts of cold sweat could indicate an underlying heart trouble. Take note of these warning signs of a heart problem and consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. While many of these symptoms don’t automatically indicate a heart problem, it is best to always stay vigilant.

Learn more about Heart Health here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jezreel Esguerra, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 23, 2022

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