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Symptoms of Heart Disease and Signs of Heart Attack to Watch Out for at Christmas

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Thinking about heart disease or the prospect of having a heart attack over the festive season is not normally on many people’s minds.

But if you weigh above your recommended body mass index (BMI), have high cholesterol, smoke, drink alcohol regularly or suffer from anxiety and stress, you are at greater risk of having a heart attack. Combined with overindulging in food and alcohol during the festive season and the added stress of Christmas, this can be a deadly combination for your heart.

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Research also suggests that getting older increases the possibility of developing heart disease, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it! Although the degree of risk varies between different studies, it is generally accepted that your risk increases after age 30, and by age 65, your risk for a heart attack can be seven times greater.

Signs and symptoms

But whatever your age, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Here are nine common symptoms to look out for:

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  1. Gets breathless easily
  2. Unexplained fatigue
  3. Palpitations (increased heart rate)
  4. Fainting
  5. Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  6. Chest discomfort and pain, which starts when you exert yourself and stops when you rest
  7. Stomach pain and frequent indigestion
  8. Pain in your legs and cramping sensations when you walk
  9. Swollen ankles

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should contact your GP so that they look at underlying medical conditions. You should always seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

  • Pain in one or both arms and, or sides
  • Severe chest pain, it may feel as if there is a weight on your chest or your chest is constricted
  • Difficulty breathing and difficulty taking deep breaths
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Sudden onset of sweating for no reason or clammy skin

Diagnosis of heart disease

Early diagnosis of coronary heart disease (CHD) can prevent a heart attack. If you have symptoms that worry you, the first steps in diagnosing heart disease will usually include a physical exam, a blood pressure test, blood tests, and a chest X-ray. Depending on the results, you may be referred to a consultant cardiologist and other tests may be recommended, including:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This test involves placing sticky sensors on your chest that are attached to an EKG machine to record the electrical signals produced by your heartbeat. It can help detect a fast or slow heartbeat and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), but it doesn’t always detect coronary heart disease (CHD) and is often combined with other tests. There are three types of ECG:

  • Resting EKG – performed while sitting or lying down
  • Stress EKG – performed when you use a treadmill or exercise bike
  • 24 to 48-hour EKG, also called a Holter monitor – a small portable EKG machine is worn for a set period of time and you continue with normal daily activities.


This is a type of ultrasound scan that creates images of the heart and shows the movement of blood through the heart. It is used to help detect various conditions, including if a heart valve is tight or leaking, a build-up of fluid in the sac around the heart, called the pericardium, or if the heart muscle is weak or damaged due to a heart attack.

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Cardiac catheterization and coronary angiogram

This is a type of X-ray used to examine your heart’s blood vessels to see if coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. It is painless and involves inserting a small catheter (tube) into your arm, groin or leg, which injects dye into your veins so they can be seen more clearly on the X-ray.

Computerized tomography (CT) Heart scan

A CT scan involves you lying in an open-ended, tubular machine that contains an X-ray tube that rotates around your body. It is used to detect a build-up of plaque and narrowing or blockage of the arteries.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Heart scan

An MRI scan is usually done in a fully enclosed machine. If you are claustrophobic, this can be very stressful and you may want to request an open MRI machine. It is used to look at how the heart muscle, valves and chambers are functioning and can help diagnose a range of heart conditions, including coronary heart disease, disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and heart valve disease.

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It is also important to accept that even if you have no symptoms, you may still have heart or circulatory disease. Regardless of your age, if you live a high-risk lifestyle, you should talk to your GP for support in making changes.

Tools, resources and support for people and families living with heart disease and failure:

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