Things to look out for that would tell you your heart is in bad shape

Tightness in your chest

Tightness in your chest

Dr Husain Shabeeh, Consultant Cardiologist at Spire St Anthony’s Hospital

Around 1 in 10 people have some form of heart or circulation problem. The heart is a complex structure, which consists of the heart muscle, which acts as a pump, the valves between the different chambers of the heart, the blood supply to the heart (the coronary arteries), and also the hearts own electrical conduction system. A problem can arise from one or many of these.

There are certain symptoms that should prompt you to see the doctor and get your heart checked out. Most of these will hopefully be nothing serious but sometimes these can be a sign of significant heart disease.

Chest tightness

Chest pains are common and due to a variety of things. However, they can be a sign of narrowing of the blood supply to the heart, the coronary arteries. This is known as coronary heart disease. Most people who have this describe it as a tightening around the chest (“like an elephant sitting on my chest”, sometimes radiating to the arm, neck or jaw. If this happens and doesn’t go away quickly it could be a sign of a heart attack and you should get urgent medical attention. If one gets these symptoms when they exert themselves which then settle at rest, this is known as angina. You don’t necessarily have to call an ambulance if this is the case, but it is very important to see you doctor.


There are many reasons one might feel breathless. It may just be poor conditioning and a lack of exercise. However, it can have a medical cause including heart disease. Breathlessness on exertion may be due to the heart not pumping efficiently or a problem with one of heart valves. If you have noticed you are more breathless on exertion then it is best to get this checked out by your doctor.

Fluid build up

Fluid building up, especially on the ankles due to gravity, is more common as one gets older. It could be for many reasons including medications or high blood pressure. However, it may be a sign that the heart is not pumping the blood (i.e. the fluid) around the body efficiently. It is important to show your doctor, especially if this is also accompanied with breathlessness – which may be fluid congestion in the lungs for the same reason.

Irregular pulse

Feeling your pulse in your wrist is a good way to see if your heart beat is irregular. It may just be extra beats called ectopics and most of the time are harmless. However, if it feels erratic and irregular it may be a sign of atrial fibrillation. This is the commonest abnormal heart rhythm, and can increase the risk of stroke. If you feel your heart is irregular and erratic then see you doctor, who may then do an electrical recording of your heart called an ECG (electrocardiogram).

Feeling your heart racing

Feeling your heart racing or a sensation of palpitations may be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm making your heart go fast. The good news is that most of these are not dangerous and can be relatively common, but can make you feel unwell at the time. These often are self-limiting, but it is worth seeing your doctor as it could be a sign of more serious heart disease.


Episodes of feeling dizzy or light-headed again are quite common. However, it may be a sign of heart disease. This could be due to an abnormal heart rhythm making your heart go too slow or too fast, or a problem with the heart itself, such as the valves not working properly.


Most people will faint once in their lifetime. However, it is still important to let your doctor know, especially if you lost consciousness without any warning whatsoever. This could be a sign of serious heart disease.


Fatigue and general tiredness is a common symptom and can be due to variety of reasons. Your doctor will check for different things including things such as anaemia (low blood count) or diabetes. However, heart disease such as the heart not pumping efficiently can also cause lethargy and fatigue.

Feeling sweaty

Feeling sweaty is normal especially when you have done some exercise. However, feeling sweaty for no reason can be due to a medical condition. This again can have many causes, but one of these could be due to heart disease. Your doctor will do tests to look at things such as your thyroid gland. However, sweating, especially if accompanied with any of the above symptoms, especially chest pain, can be a sign of significant heart disease.

Feeling sick

This has a multitude of causes, but if accompanied with chest pains or some of the symptoms above, then it could be a sign of significant heart disease.

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