From the Journals

AHA statement outlines symptoms of common heart diseases



Symptoms of six common cardiovascular diseases (CVD) – acute coronary syndromes, heart failure, valvular disorders, stroke, rhythm disorders, and peripheral vascular disease – often overlap and may vary over time and by sex, the American Heart Association noted in a new scientific statement.

“Symptoms of these cardiovascular diseases can profoundly affect quality of life, and a clear understanding of them is critical for effective diagnosis and treatment decisions,” Corrine Y. Jurgens, PhD, chair of the writing committee, said in a news release.

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This scientific statement is a “compendium detailing the symptoms associated with CVD, similarities or differences in symptoms among the conditions, and sex differences in symptom presentation and reporting,” said Dr. Jurgens, associate professor at Connell School of Nursing, Boston College.

The new statement was published online in Circulation.

The writing group noted that measuring CVD symptoms can be challenging because of their subjective nature. Symptoms may go unrecognized or unreported if people don’t think they are important or are related to an existing health condition.

“Some people may not consider symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbance, weight gain, and depression as important or related to cardiovascular disease. However, research indicates that subtle symptoms such as these may predict acute events and the need for hospitalization,” Dr. Jurgens said.

ACS – chest pain and associated symptoms

The writing group noted that chest pain is the most frequently reported symptom of ACS and has often been described as substernal pressure or discomfort and may radiate to the jaw, shoulder, arm, or upper back.

The most common co-occurring symptoms are dyspnea, diaphoresis, unusual fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness. Women are more likely than men to report additional symptoms outside of chest pain.

As a result, they have often been labeled “atypical.” However, a recent AHA advisory notes that this label may have been caused by the lack of women included in the clinical trials from which the symptom lists were derived.

The writing group said there is a need to “harmonize” ACS symptom measurement in research. The current lack of harmonization of ACS symptom measurement in research hampers growth in cumulative evidence.

“Therefore, little can be done to synthesize salient findings about symptoms across ischemic heart disease/ACS studies and to incorporate evidence-based information about symptoms into treatment guidelines and patient education materials,” they cautioned.

Heart failure

Turning to heart failure (HF), the writing group noted that dyspnea is the classic symptom and a common reason adults seek medical care.

However, early, more subtle symptoms should be recognized. These include gastrointestinal symptoms such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite; fatigue; exercise intolerance; insomnia; pain (chest and otherwise); mood disturbances (primarily depression and anxiety); and cognitive dysfunction (brain fog, memory problems).

Women with HF report a wider variety of symptoms, are more likely to have depression and anxiety, and report a lower quality of life, compared with men with HF.

“It is important to account for dyspnea heterogeneity in both clinical practice and research by using nuanced measures and probing questions to capture this common and multifaceted symptom,” the writing group said.

“Monitoring symptoms on a spectrum, versus present or not present, with reliable and valid measures may enhance clinical care by identifying more quickly those who may be at risk for poor outcomes, such as lower quality of life, hospitalization, or death,” Dr. Jurgens added.

“Ultimately, we have work to do in terms of determining who needs more frequent monitoring or intervention to avert poor HF outcomes,” she said.


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