Published on July 27, 2022

A provider listening to a man's heart.

You may have heart disease and not even know it

Heart disease is common in the United States and in Wisconsin. It remains the leading cause of death in our community and the nation.

"Despite the facts, as a cardiologist I often encounter patients who are surprised to learn that they have heart disease," said Firas Ghanem, MD, who specializes in interventional cardiology and cardiology at ProHealth Medical Group. “Some people discover they have a serious health condition only after they have experienced a heart attack or life-threatening blockage in an artery. The truth is, many people do not have to suffer from heart disease – or die from it.”

Heart disease can often be prevented. It can also be treated when people know the warning signs and get medical care when they need it.

Symptoms of heart disease are not necessarily dramatic and can be mistaken for minor ailments. You may have a heart-related issue if you have been experiencing:

  • Mild chest discomfort or pressure
  • Shortness of breath during mild to moderate activities
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder or back
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion, heartburn or nausea
  • Chest discomfort after eating
  • Pain, tingling, weakness, coldness or swelling in the legs or arms
  • Snoring and sleeping problems
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue or lightheadedness
  • Persistent coughing
  • Throat or jaw pain
  • Cold or excessive sweating

Patients who have already been evaluated for heart disease can also experience a heart event, even if they recently had a normal stress test. Taking recommended nitroglycerin or nitrates as prescribed does not prevent a heart event.

"The best way to prevent heart disease and other health issues is to lead an active lifestyle and focus on consuming natural, unprocessed foods, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables," Dr. Ghanem said. "A diet high in sugar, saturated and trans fats, salt and processed carbohydrates is a pathway to heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and other serious health concerns."

Your health care provider is your partner in disease prevention and treatment. Work with your provider to maintain a healthy diet, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Know your family’s medical history and whether it includes heart disease. Share family medical information and concerns with your provider.

Be sure to schedule and complete the regular check-ups, lab work and health screenings your provider advises for optimum health. If you are referred for a health evaluation, follow your provider’s recommendation as soon as possible.

In certain cases, a provider may recommend a noninvasive, painless evaluation such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), CT scan, MRI, portable device monitoring, or an echocardiogram related to a heart concern. A stress test may be recommended to evaluate heart performance during exercise.

People with heart issues often wait too long to share their concerns with their doctor, only to find themselves in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Never hesitate to contact a health care provider with any question about your health.