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5 things your heart is telling you

Every day your heart sends you important signals about your health. Are you listening?

These everyday signs can tell you a lot about your heart’s health. Are you listening?

1. Heartbeat

Heart skipping a beat a little too often? It might be sending an important message. Frequently feeling like your heart’s beating too fast, too slow or in an unsteady rhythm could be a sign of an irregular heartbeat.

“We’re not talking about a racing pulse after an intense workout, or the occasional feeling of your heart skipping a beat,” says Rohit Mehta, MD, a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “It’s when you notice these symptoms more often that you could have a problem.”

An irregular heartbeat, known as an arrhythmia, happens when the electrical impulses that control your heartbeat fire abnormally. An irregular heartbeat is usually harmless, but some types can cause damage to your body or even be life-threatening.

“If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or short of breath along with your heart-rhythm symptoms, call your doctor,” Mehta says.

2. Heartburn

Feeling heartburn after a big meal? It’s probably nothing to worry about. But if the pain spreads to your shoulders, arms, neck or jaw, it could be your heart’s way of signaling an oncoming heart attack.

“Heartburn and heart attacks actually share a lot of the same symptoms,” says Sanger cardiologist Troy Leo, MD. “If you’re in doubt, get medical help right away.”

3. Sleep Habits

Snoring too loud at night? If your loved one complains about your snoring, or notices that you gasp for breath throughout the night, you might have sleep apnea. The condition, which happens when you stop breathing for short periods while you sleep, is common. And distressingly, it’s often linked to a host of heart problems.

“If you have sleep apnea, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, including a higher risk of heart attack, an irregular heartbeat and even a stroke,” says Mehta.

The good news? You have a range of options to treat it – and get your heart health back on track.

4. Shortness of Breath

It’s common to feel breathless when you’re exerting yourself. But if you feel short of breath when you’re sitting, lying flat or sleeping, it could actually be a sign of heart failure. Heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has failed or stopped working. It means your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

“When your heart can’t pump enough blood out, fluid can build up in the lungs – and that causes the shortness of breath you feel,” says Theodore Frank, MD, a cardiologist and heart-failure specialist at Sanger. “You might feel short of breath when you exert yourself, or as the condition gets worse, you could feel breathless without any exertion at all.”

5. Chest Pain

Feeling pain, tightness or pressure in your chest? A common heart-health warning sign, it could be a sign of a blocked artery or an impending heart attack.

If the feeling is fleeting, or the pain gets worse when you press on your chest, it might not be a heart attack. But if it lasts more than a few minutes – or you’re in any doubt at all – call 911.

“Chest pain is something you never want to ignore,” says Frank. “The earlier you catch it, the higher your odds of recovering and having fewer complications.”

Looking to keep your heart healthy? Explore Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s heart care.

(This column is one of a regular series submitted by Carolinas HealthCare System’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion. For more information, go to

Written by: Stephanie Boothe, CCMO, Associate II, Carolinas HealthCare System

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