If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart disease, you probably know that the symptom list is potentially long and scary. The good news is that many of these symptoms can be avoided by taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease in the first place. Common symptoms of heart disease include chest pain when breathing or coughing, dizziness, fainting spells, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue, cold hands and feet, indigestion after eating fatty foods, an unexplained cough or wheeze that was not there before, numbness of the face or limbs on one side of the body for more than a few minutes (especially if it does not go away), pain in jaw, neck or back.
The bad news is that a lot of the symptoms can be easy to miss. It takes an extra bit of vigilance and research to spot them, especially when they happen in less serious situations or during off-peak hours. That’s why many people end up in the emergency room—the last place you want to be for such potentially serious symptoms! However, even if you are taking the right steps to avoid heart disease, there are subtle tell-tale signs on your skin that could be trying to warn you of an underlying cardiac condition, which I think is much scarier than the common symptoms previously mentioned, that is, if we just overlook them. It’s important to learn how to identify these symptoms in their early stages – because if left untreated, they can turn into full-blown cardiovascular problems.
- Liver spots. The first and most common indicator is age spots or liver spots. These are typically found on the hands, arms, chest or back. Liver spots begin as flat, brown patches but can turn into dark lesions over time. If you have them removed by a dermatologist, it is recommended that you also receive an electrocardiogram (ECG) to screen for cardiac issues.
- Bruising easily. Another warning sign of heart disease can be bruising easily, especially on your legs and feet. This is because the blood vessels in these parts of our bodies tend to be more delicate than elsewhere on our skin and body – which means they’re easier to burst with little physical trauma. So if you do bump into furniture or get hit by a car (or even fall off your bike,) it’s very easy to see bruises form on these parts of your body.
- Palmar erythema. Another common symptom is purple blotches on the skin, especially near joints like elbows, knees, and wrists. These are often caused by broken blood vessels that rupture when not given enough oxygen (the restricted flow of blood through arteries causes this problem.) This can happen due to any number of reasons – but regardless of what triggers it, if left untreated these ruptures can cause more serious problems with blood flow and lead to varicose veins. One other condition that can be a sign of heart disease is a shiny patch on the skin that resembles a burn scar or an oil slick. This is called palmar erythema and it’s caused by a lack of blood flow on the palms of your hands – usually after some sort of physical stress occurs. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also trigger this symptom, so if you see it on your wife’s palms remember that she might need time to recover!
- Spider veins – spider veins are another tell-tale sign of a heart problem. If you notice these crawling up your calves or even over your cheeks, it can be a serious warning sign that needs attention right away. Spider veins look like red or purple lines coming out from all sides of the central vein, which can mean that scar tissue has begun to occur in that area – which is often due to blocked blood flow.
- Periorbital hyperpigmentation – people who experience high blood pressure or hypertension (a risk-factor for heart disease) may notice darkening of their skin under their eyes, which is known as periorbital hyperpigmentation. This occurs when tiny blood vessels in the eyelids become engorged with blood due to the elevated pressures of circulating blood through your body. More common in African American populations, it can also affect Caucasians and Asians too.
- Acanthosis nigricans – another skin condition commonly found in people with high blood sugar level (which is another risk-factor for cardiovascular disease) is known as acanthosis nigricans, which can be identified by dark, thickened patches of skin on the back of your neck and under your arms. This type of pigmentation is usually a result of insulin resistance, but it can also signify production of too much cortisol, or low levels of thyroid hormones.
- Xanthelasma palpebrarum – a more serious form of atherosclerosis causes xanthelasma palpebrarum, a deposit of cholesterol just below the skin around the eyes. These yellowish-colored bumps are often first noticed during adolescence and have been dubbed “pre-heart attack” lesions, because they might indicate that you have higher risk for developing serious heart disease. The good news is that these lesions are usually painless, easily removable and never turn into skin cancer or eye problems.
- Solar lentigines – Other tell-tale signs that you may be suffering from cardiovascular disease can show up in dark patches found on areas exposed to strong sun, like your face, chest, lower back, and hands. When the underlying atherosclerosis causes great harm to the cardiovascular system, brownish spots called solar lentigines can appear. These raise your risk for melanoma so it’s important to wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors.
- Xanthelasma – also on the warning signs list for heart disease is a tan or brown complexion, which may be an indicator of having higher cholesterol. This pigmentation usually occurs in the face, neck, and scalp when increased levels of LDL cholesterol leads to yellowish plaques known as xanthelasma. The best way to prevent these spots from developing is by maintaining healthy levels of good cholesterol, starting with diet and exercise.
- Nail abnormalities – it’s possible that your nails could be trying to deliver some important messages about your health too. Nail abnormalities are common in people with cardiovascular issues, so look out for vertical ridges or tiny lines running across the nail beds, discoloration, white spots or streaks. You might also notice lusterless nails that are pitted, grooved or brittle.
So if you’re experiencing any combination of these symptoms, it might be time to visit your doctor. There may not be an easy fix for having higher cholesterol, but with the right medication and lifestyle changes, you can prevent serious heart disease from developing later in life.
The best way to deal with these symptoms is learning how to spot them early. Reading up on cardiovascular diseases and maintaining good health habits can keep you ahead of the game! Remember, if these symptoms show up in your skin, they might also be indicating that blood isn’t flowing freely through your arteries – so don’t ignore it! Sometimes just giving yourself an extra few minutes to rest after physical activity can prevent serious problems later on – so take care of yourselves!