Medic Alert: Heart Disease Symptoms to Watch for During Exercise

By James M. Rippe

The key to safe exercise is never leaving your common sense at home. Staying in tune with any symptoms that you have during an exercise session is important for achieving maximum benefit and safety from exercising, especially when you’re at risk for heart disease or already have established signs or symptoms or manifestations of heart disease.

If the following symptoms occur during exercise, contact your physician before continuing your walking routine or any other form of physical activity:

  • Discomfort in the chest, arm, upper body, neck, or jaw: These symptoms may very well be angina. If you have any questions, you need to discuss them with your doctor. This type of discomfort may be of any intensity and may be experienced as aching, burning, or a sensation of fullness or tightness.

  • Faintness or lightheadedness: These symptoms may occur after exercise whenever your cool-down is too brief. This situation usually isn’t serious and can be managed by extending the cool-down. However, if you experience a fainting spell or feel that you’re about to faint during exercise, immediately discontinue the activity and consult your physician.

  • Excessive shortness of breath: While you’re walking or performing any other form of aerobic exercise, you can expect the rate and depth of your breathing to increase, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable.

    A good rule to follow is that breathing should not be so difficult that talking becomes an effort. If wheezing develops or if recovery from shortness of breath takes more than five minutes at the conclusion of an exercise session, you need to consult with your doctor.

  • Irregular pulse: If your pulse is irregular, skips, or races, either during or after exercise, such that it differs from your normal pulse, consulting your physician is important.

  • Changes in usual symptoms: If your usual symptoms change — an increase in angina or shortness of breath, for example — or pain occurs or becomes more severe or persistent in an arthritic joint or at the site of a previous orthopedic injury, you need to consult with your physician.

  • Any other symptoms: Finally, you always need to discuss any other symptoms that concern you with your physician. Physical activity should be a pleasure and not a chore. Pain is a warning sign that you should never ignore.

Some medications can also affect the intensity of your exercise program but not its effectiveness. Discuss this possibility with your doctor.