Despite the prevalence of heart disease – it’s still the No. 1 killer of Australians, according to the National Heart Foundation – it can be tough to spot before it’s too late.
“For a lot of people, the first symptom is sudden death or a heart attack,” says cardiovascular specialist Dr Steven Nissen.
When it comes to identifying heart disease in midlife, Nissen says there are a lot of “strange myths” floating around.
Keeping tabs on your blood’s cholesterol and triglyceride levels is really the only hard-and-fast measure of future heart trouble, he says.
Still, research has turned up a handful of odd symptoms that might – emphasis on might – predict heart disease later in life.
While experiencing one of these symptoms is no reason to freak out, consider them a reminder to go see your doctor about your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which Nissen says every adult should have a handle on.
If you have foul breath – the type caused by gum disease – your family may not be the only ones who suffer. Your heart may also be in trouble, finds research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Gum disease promotes inflammation, which in turn stokes heart disease, the study authors say.
But by treating gum disease – and knocking out your bad breath – you may lower your risk of heart trouble, more research shows.
YAWNING DURING EXERCISE
Despite science’s best efforts, yawning remains a mysterious phenomenon.
But some of the latest research suggests that a good yawn helps promote blood oxygenation and brain cooling. It makes sense, then, that you might yawn during exercise, especially on hot days.
At the same time, nonstop yawning during workouts may signal that your body’s built-in cooling mechanisms aren’t working the way they should, researchers says.
And if your internal AC is off, that may suggest a heart or circulatory issue, more research indicates.
FEELING LIGHT-HEADED WHEN YOU STAND UP
Ever feel dizzy when you stand up suddenly? Experts refer to that as “orthostatic hypotension,” and for most of us it lasts just a second or two.
But if that light-headedness hangs around for a few minutes, and especially if you’re younger than 55, that may suggest an underlying blood flow issue, finds research from the University of North Carolina.
People who experience this kind of prolonged dizziness are 54 per cent more likely to experience heart failure later on than those who don’t, the study concludes.
AN ODD KIND OF EARLOBE WRINKLE
Even if you don’t have any of the “traditional” heart disease symptoms – such as poor cholesterol scores or a diabetes diagnosis – a diagonal crease in either (or both) earlobes is a sign your ticker isn’t working as well as it should, finds a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Penn study is not the first to link an earlobe crease with heart issues.
Sometimes referred to as “Frank’s Sign” after the researcher who discovered it, the distinctive lobe crease may signal arterial blockage and has long been linked with heart trouble.
A STUBBY RING FINGER
If your ring finger is the same length as your index (pointer) finger, your risk for heart disease in your 40s and 50s jumps, compared with those who have greater ring-to-index-finger ratios, finds a series of studies from researchers at the University of Liverpool in the UK.
Longer ring fingers are a sign of greater foetal testosterone exposure, which has been associated with lower rates of heart disease among men.
Be sure to keep tabs on your ticker if your ring finger is noticeably shorter than your index finger
CLEAR SKIN DURING YOUR TEEN YEARS
It may be worth the embarrassment you suffered during high school: if you had acne as a teen, your risk for coronary heart disease drops 33 per cent, finds a study from the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Again, it has to do with hormone levels.
Higher circulating levels of testosterone during adolescence triggers acne flare-ups, but also seems to protect you from heart disease later in life, the study team says.