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Recognizing Early Signs of Heart Disease in Young Black Adults

March 7, 2024

March 7, 2024

Heart disease tops the list as the number one killer for all adults in the U.S., with stroke not far behind as the fifth leading cause and a significant source of disability. Unfortunately, the risk of these diseases is even higher for Black individuals due to historical and systemic factors. These include barriers to healthcare access and healthy foods, among other societal issues.

In 2019, Black Americans were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than their white counterparts. Even more alarming is the fact that heart disease tends to develop at a younger age in Black women and men compared to white adults.

The good news is that Black Americans can improve their chances of preventing and overcoming these diseases by recognizing the early warning signs of heart disease. Here are some key signs to watch out for.

General Feeling Of Tiredness Or Fatigue

A pervasive sense of tiredness or fatigue can ensue when the heart struggles to pump sufficient oxygen-rich blood to meet the body’s energy demands. This sensation often manifests as a persistent weariness that transcends typical feelings of tiredness from daily activities or lack of sleep. Instead, it becomes a constant presence, diminishing one’s capacity to engage in everyday tasks and activities.

This fatigue arises due to the body’s compromised ability to efficiently deliver oxygen to tissues and organs. Consequently, essential bodily functions are impaired, leading to a general feeling of exhaustion. Moreover, inadequate oxygen supply can disrupt cellular metabolism, further exacerbating feelings of fatigue.


Swelling in your feet and lower legs can be a concerning sign, potentially indicating that your heart isn’t functioning as it should. Various heart conditions can accumulate fluid in the body’s extremities, resulting in visible swelling.

When your heart struggles to pump blood effectively, fluid can pool in the legs and feet due to gravity, causing them to swell. In more severe cases, this swelling may start in the ankles and gradually extend upward to involve the lower legs, calves, thighs, and groin.

It’s crucial to address underlying heart conditions and improve circulation to address edema and swelling in your feet and lower legs. One component of this strategy involves adopting a Cholesterol Reduction Plan. High cholesterol levels can contribute to heart disease, impairing heart function and accumulating fluid in the extremities.

This plan could include dietary changes such as reducing the intake of saturated and trans fats, increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and incorporating heart-healthy fats like those found in fish, nuts, and seeds.

Regular exercise is essential for managing cholesterol levels and promoting overall heart health. Additionally, your healthcare provider may recommend medications such as statins to help lower cholesterol levels if lifestyle changes alone are insufficient.

Difficulty In Breathing When Lying Down

Experiencing difficulty breathing when lying down can be a concerning indication of potential heart problems. Usually, when a person reclines, blood from the lower body redistributes to the upper body, including the lungs, due to gravitational forces. A healthy heart can manage this shift in blood volume, efficiently pumping it out of the lungs.

However, when the heart is weakened, as in the case of heart failure or other cardiac conditions, it struggles to handle this additional blood volume effectively. Consequently, blood accumulates in the lungs, exerting pressure and leading to fluid leakage from blood vessels into the air sacs, or alveoli, within the lungs. This condition, known as pulmonary edema, interferes with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body.

As fluid accumulates in the lungs, the ability of the alveoli to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream becomes impaired, resulting in decreased oxygenation. This disruption in the respiratory process contributes to the sensation of breathlessness experienced by individuals with orthopnea.

Chest Pain

Chest pain can manifest in various forms with unique characteristics and sensations. From a sharp, stabbing pain to a dull, persistent ache, the experience of chest discomfort can vary widely among individuals. Some describe it as feeling like their chest is crushed, while others liken it to a burning sensation.

Sometimes, chest pain may not be limited to the chest area alone. It can radiate to other body parts like the neck, jaw, arms, or back. This phenomenon, known as referred pain, occurs when pain signals originating from the chest are perceived in distant areas of the body. For example, chest pain may travel up the neck and into the jaw, or it may spread down one or both arms.

The presence of radiation of chest pain to other areas of the body can provide important clues about its underlying cause. For instance, chest pain that radiates to the left arm is a classic symptom of a heart attack, while pain that travels to the back may indicate other cardiac or gastrointestinal issues.

Persistent Coughing Or Wheezing

Coughing is the body’s natural mechanism for clearing irritants or mucus from the airways. However, when coughing becomes persistent or is accompanied by unusual symptoms such as blood-tinged mucus, it may indicate an underlying respiratory or cardiovascular issue.

White or pink-tinged mucus can be a sign of fluid buildup in the lungs, which may occur due to conditions such as heart failure or pulmonary edema. In these cases, blood in the mucus suggests that blood vessels within the lungs may leak, leading to blood mixing with respiratory secretions.

Wheezing, characterized by a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing, can also accompany persistent coughing and may indicate airway obstruction or inflammation. Conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or bronchitis can cause wheezing and coughing, especially during exacerbations or flare-ups.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential not to ignore them. These could be signs of underlying heart issues that require prompt medical attention. Don’t delay. Reach out to your healthcare provider or seek emergency medical care if necessary. Remember that early intervention can significantly affect your prognosis and overall well-being.

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