The Truly Dreadful Things Heart Disease Can Do to Your Body

Heart disease affects thousands of Americans in one way or another. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women. But most people only think “heart attack” when they think about heart disease. Actually, heart disease can affect many other parts of your body.

Here’s what can really happen if you’re living with heart disease or don’t properly manage it.

Your heart won’t get as much oxygen

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

This lack of oxygen can be deadly. |

With heart disease, your arteries become partially blocked. Plaque builds up and doesn’t let as much blood pass through. Since the cardiovascular system supplies your body with oxygen, a lack of blood flow means your heart is not getting the oxygen it needs to properly function. As a result, the rest of your body then suffers.

Next: These can fail and lead to many complications. 

It can lead to kidney failure

kidney cross section

Keeping your kidneys healthy is vital. |

One effect of heart disease is hypertension, or high blood pressure. The kidneys help rid your system of waste, and they require many blood vessels to do so. Over time, high blood pressure causes the blood vessels to narrow. This leads the blood vessels in the kidneys to not work properly, which can ultimately cause kidney failure. The kidneys will no longer be able to filter your blood well enough to keep you healthy.

Next: This is probably the most well-known result of heart disease. 

It can cause a heart attack

Woman having heart attack symptom

Watch out for the signs. |

When plaque builds up in your arteries, it limits blood flow. If blood flow is limited to your heart, it reduces the oxygen supply, which your heart needs, and ultimately causes a heart attack. Heart attacks happen to someone in the U.S. every 40 seconds. If help is not immediately sought, they can be deadly. They are characterized by severe chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

Next: These could enlarge. 

Your legs could swell

A man with a swollen leg

Do you notice a change in your legs? | PeJo29/iStock/Getty Images

One common side effect of heart disease is swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet. If your heart isn’t working properly, it can cause the blood to back up in your legs and feet, which leads to the swelling. As a result, fluid starts to build up in your tissues. You might also notice weight gain or swelling in the stomach.

Next: At the worst, swollen legs could lead to this. 

It can lead to amputation

An Afghan amputee walks with a prosthetic leg at a International Committee of the Red Cross

This may be one result of heart disease. | NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images

Cardiovascular disease affects more than just the heart. Peripheral artery disease, known as PAD, occurs when blood flow is blocked to arteries in areas like your arms and legs. If there is poor circulation to your limbs, or blood flow is cut off from a clot, your extremities don’t receive enough oxygen. Ultimately, it could lead to amputation.

Next: Heart disease can have serious brain implications, too. 

It can cause stroke

Stroke (cerebrovascular accident)

Your brain isn’t safe from danger either. |

Heart disease can also affect your brain. If the heart can’t properly pump blood, it means blood isn’t arriving to the brain as efficiently as it needs to be. If blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, it leads to a stroke. Without blood supply to the brain, brain cells quickly die. With stroke, there are often long term effects because too many brain cells died for the body to fully function normally again.

Next: This is a surprising thing heart disease can do to your body. 

Your body might break out in a rash

You'll think twice about hopping into the hot tub after you read about folliculitis.

One particular heart infection, endocarditis, can cause symptoms like skin rashes or unusual spots on the skin. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner membrane of the heart. Although skin rashes could be a sign of many other diseases, if they accompany symptoms like changes in heart rhythm or shortness of breath, it could be the result of a heart problem.

Next: This might start to happen more often. 

You could faint often

Passenger traveling and feeling dizzy w

Feeling faint? You may want to check in with your doctor. | AntonioGuillem

Fainting, also known as syncope, is a sudden loss of consciousness and often occurs when not enough oxygen reaches the brain — usually when blood pressure drops. Although fainting is not always serious, fainting problems related to the heart, such as abnormal heart rhythm, usually are.

Next: Hanging out with your children or grandchildren might get more difficult. 

You’re not able to exert energy the way you used to

Woman having trouble in breathing

Has exercising only gotten more difficult? |

When you have heart disease, putting any amount of stress on your heart is dangerous. This includes regular activities like cleaning your yard or playing catch with your child or grandchild. Any overexertion means that your heart has to work overtime, which can lead to a heart attack. Normal activities that you once did with ease become much riskier with heart disease.

Next: Regular tasks can be extremely exhausting. 

You’ll constantly feel tired

Tired businesswoman

Nap time may feel like a necessity. |

Fatigue is another common effect of heart disease. Climbing multiple flights of stairs can be exhausting for anyone, but if you’re living with heart disease, activities like climbing stairs or carrying groceries can be overly tiring. Fatigue occurs because the body needs to divert blood from less important areas, like the muscles, in order to make up for the needs of more important organs, such as the kidneys.

Next: Your stomach won’t feel too well, either. 

You could be sick to your stomach

Woman having stomach pain

Nauseous? Keep this danger in mind. |

If you’re living with heart disease, nausea can be a big problem. Since there is a lack of blood flow, the digestive system receives less blood. This can lead to digestive issues and cause vomiting and discomfort. Without proper blood flow, your body might refuse to digest the food you’ve eaten. A loss of appetite is also common with heart disease.

Next: It’s almost certain that heart disease will cause this. 

You’ll suffer from angina

Heart Pain

Chest pain is a dangerous sign, for more than one reason. | TeoLazarev/iStock/Getty Images

Angina is the term for chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart. The pain can spread to the shoulders, arms, and neck and cause extreme discomfort. Sometimes, angina is confused with indigestion. Most cases of angina occur when the heart is overworked, like during exercise. But more serious cases happen when the heart is supposed to be pumping regularly, yet you still feel pain.

Next: If you want to have children, be wary. 

It could be unsafe to get pregnant

Pregnant woman holding her stomach on a plane

Women need to be hyper aware of this side effect. | Nadezhda1906/iStock/Getty Images

For women, heart disease makes pregnancy more complicated — and definitely more dangerous. Your heart is pumping blood for two lives, not just one. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases somewhere between 30% and 50% in order to nourish the baby. Labor and delivery require a lot of energy exertion, too. Depending on how serious your heart condition is, it might not be safe to get pregnant.

Next: The ultimate outcome could be this.  

Your heart could ultimately fail you

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart

This is the worst case scenario.|

The most dreadful thing heart disease can do to your body is kill you. Heart disease kills about 610,000 Americans every year. Don’t be a statistic. If you think you could be suffering from heart disease or experience any of the symptoms related to heart disease, see your doctor immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Next: So what are the ins and outs of the disease?

What is heart disease?

Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout


Heart disease is not just one disease — it describes various diseases that can affect your heart. Diseases in this category include diseases within the blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, problems with heart rhythm, and congenital heart defects (heart problems you are born with). Together, these various diseases lead to more deaths than anything else in the United States.

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