February is American Heart Month. The American Heart Association works to raise awareness for heart health. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease,” states the American Health Association. “Heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions.” 

We’re teaming up to bring more awareness to heart health and spoke with Liz Newton Smith, PA-C, about how to tell if your heart health might not be as strong as you thought.

When you think of the signs and symptoms involved with an unhealthy heart, most people think of chest pain or chest discomfort. These symptoms are serious and require immediate attention. Some heart symptoms are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. There are other symptoms involved with an unhealthy heart that you may not be familiar with.


Shortness of Breath (SOB)

Most people link SOB to a lung condition, but this is not always the case. SOB can be associated with many cardiac issues such as heart rhythm disturbances, problems with the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), inflammation of the heart (pericarditis), and even heart failure.


If you notice puffiness of the skin or the look of stretched and shiny skin especially in your lower extremities this may indicate a problem with your vasculature and heart. Swelling can be caused when the veins of the legs have issues pumping blood back to your heart. This symptom could also result from heart issues such as congestive heart failure. Patients with heart failure cannot pump blood normally. Heart failure can cause swelling in the legs, but also in the belly or lungs.



Similar to SOB, a cough seems to be linked mostly to lung conditions like asthma. Although not as common as asthma or other lung conditions, coughing can be a serious sign in the cardiac world. In certain cases, coughing is a presenting sign of a heart attack.  Also, persistent cough with or without white or pink mucus can be a sign of heart failure.


If you have any of the above symptoms you should discuss with your doctor immediately. Your doctor may order certain diagnostic tests to decipher what is causing your symptoms. These tests may include, but are not limited to an EKG, blood tests, XRYs, and breathing tests. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, especially in regards to your heart health, and it could save your life.

Learn a registered dietitian’s 7 heart health tips