Few symptoms are more alarming than chest pain. In the minds of many people, chest pain equals heart pain. And while many other conditions can cause chest pain, cardiac disease is so common and so dangerous that the symptom of chest pain should never be dismissed out of hand as being insignificant.
Chest pain is often used to describe any pain, pressure, squeezing, choking, numbness or any other discomfort in the chest, neck, upper abdomen, and is often associated with pain in the jaw, head, and arms.
It can last from less than a second to days or weeks, can occur frequently or rarely, and can occur sporadically or predictably.
This description of chest pain is obviously very vague, and as you might expect, many medical conditions aside from heart disease can produce symptoms like this.
Palpitations an unusual awareness of the heartbeat, is an extremely common symptom. Most people who complain of palpitations describe them either as skips in the heartbeat that is to say, a pause often followed by a particularly strong beat as periods of rapid and irregular heartbeats.
Most people with palpitations have some type of cardiac arrhythmia. Cardiac arrhythmia normally refers to increased heart beats.
Unfortunately on several occasions, palpitations can be a manifestation of a more dangerous heart arrhythmia such as ventricular tachycardia.
Also to mention are the episodes of light-headedness or dizziness can have many causes including anaemia (low blood count) and other blood disorders, dehydration, viral illnesses, deconditioning such as prolonged bed rest, diabetes, thyroid disease, gastrointestinal disturbances, liver disease, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disorders.
Because so many different conditions can produce these symptoms, anybody experiencing episodes of light-headedness or dizziness ought to have a thorough and complete examination by a physician.
And since disorders of so many organ systems can cause these symptoms, a good general internist or family doctor may be the best place to start.
Syncope is a sudden and temporary loss of consciousness, and fainting in some cases. It is a common symptom; most people pass out at least once in their lives and often does not indicate a serious medical problem. However, sometimes syncope indicates a dangerous or even life-threatening condition, so when syncope occurs it is important to figure out the cause.
The causes of syncope can be grouped into four major categories, neurological, metabolic, vasomotor and cardiac. Of these, only cardiac syncope commonly leads to sudden death.
Fatigue, lethargy and somnolence (daytime sleepiness) are very common symptoms. Fatigue or lethargy can be thought of as an inability to continue functioning at one’s normal levels.
Somnolence implies, in addition that one either craves sleep or finds oneself suddenly asleep, a condition known as narcolepsy, during the daytime.
While fatigue and lethargy can be symptoms of heart disease particularly of heart failure, these common and non-specific symptoms can also be due to disorders of virtually any other organ system in the body.
Similar to light-headedness and dizziness, individuals with fatigue and lethargy need a good general medical evaluation in order to begin pinning down a specific cause.
Somnolence is often caused by nocturnal sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or insomnia. All these sleep disturbances, however are more common in patients with heart disease.
Shortness of breath is most often a symptom of cardiac and lung disorders. Heart failure and coronary artery disease frequently produce shortness of breath.
Patients with heart failure commonly experience shortness of breath with exertion, and when lying flat on their backs. They also can suddenly wake up at night gasping for breath, a condition known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.
Coronary artery disease can manifest as shortness of breath on exertion. Other cardiac conditions such as valvular heart disease or pericardial disease can produce this symptom, as can cardiac arrhythmias.
Numerous lung conditions can produce shortness of breath including asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, or pleural effusion (a fluid accumulation between the lung and chest wall).
Shortness of breath is almost always a sign of a significant medical problem, and should always be evaluated by a doctor.