Heart disease is common across all demographics, but it’s especially prevalent among working-age individuals — with increased risk among those with high levels of job-related stress. In fact, according to the CDC, cardiac issues top the list as the most expensive health-related issues for employers, costing $363 billion annually in the U.S.
With heart health in mind this month, and to reduce risk to your company and employees, here are a few signs and symptoms of heart-related issues to look out for in your workforce:
One of the more obvious symptoms of heart-related issues, chest pain can be an indicator of cardiac distress — though it may have other explanations. Watch for employees complaining of discomfort or tightness in the chest. Some may feel a heavy, crushing or squeezing pain, while others only feel mild discomfort. The pain may be sharp and spread to a person’s sternum, neck, arms, stomach, jaw or upper back.
It’s important to remember that the pain’s intensity does not always correlate to the severity of the problem.
Shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
Those experiencing chronic heart conditions may complain of shortness of breath, especially during periods of activity or when lying flat on their backs. This is caused by the heart’s inability to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, resulting in a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Similarly, frequent coughing and wheezing may also indicate excess fluid in the lungs due to heart failure.
Employees experiencing long-term issues with shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing may need to seek medical evaluation.
Pain, discomfort or numbness in limbs
Those with narrowed blood vessels suffer much higher risk of heart attack and stroke, with patients often complaining of pain, aching, burning, numbness or other discomfort in the feet, calves or thighs — caused by poor blood supply to the legs.
If any workers complain of painful symptoms in the legs while walking or exercising, especially if accompanied by numbness while at rest, you may advise them to seek medical care.
Though anyone can be tired any time of day, feeling run down or exhausted with no apparent cause can be a sign of something more serious. If an employee seems much more tired than normal — to the point where it may be affecting their work — it may be time to seek immediate care.
Sudden, severe fatigue is a common sign of heart attack in women, especially when accompanied by extreme muscle weakness.
One of the more direct symptoms of heart trouble, palpitations are often experienced through the sensation of a fast or uneven heartbeat. When the heart struggles to pump blood efficiently, it may begin beating faster to keep up, resulting in a throbbing or jumping feeling in the chest of the individual.
While not always a medical emergency, this points to a potential issue with the person’s heart rate or rhythm, which warrants a visit or follow up with a doctor.
When to call 911
While the above symptoms alone may not indicate a medical emergency, it’s important to train supervisors and staff to look out for the signs of severe cardiac distress.
If an employee complains of chest pain accompanied by lightheadedness or nausea, jaw, neck or back pain, discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder, or shortness of breath, he or she may be experiencing a heart attack — and emergency medical services should be called.
Understanding risk factors and symptoms of heart trouble, in addition to taking prompt action during emergencies, saves the lives of millions of Americans. To keep your company’s supervisors in-the-know about heart health, including what to do in case of an emergency, Mercy Occupational Medicine is here to help with supervisor training programs that focus on identifying risks, establishing protocols and promoting overall employee wellness.