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Symptoms of Heart Disease

Updated on May 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Symptoms of heart disease vary from person to person. Symptoms are influenced by the type of heart disease, how advanced the condition is, and a person's overall health and sex. In early heart disease, there may not be symptoms at all. As damage progresses, symptoms may be barely noticeable or may be confused with other health conditions, the effects of stress, or normal changes associated with aging. Sometimes the first sign of heart disease is a myocardial infarction (MI or heart attack) or a stroke.

Because early symptoms of heart disease may not be noticeable, annual physical exams at the general practitioner’s office often provide the best chance for detecting and treating heart disease before it progresses. Routine exams such as taking your blood pressure, listening to your heart with a stethoscope, and blood tests for cholesterol all help your family doctor diagnose potential cardiovascular problems.

Heart disease treatments can improve symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and lower the risk for heart attack or stroke.

Common Symptoms of Heart Disease

People with heart disease may not experience every symptom, or even most of them.

Pain

Angina (chest pain), pressure, and discomfort are common in people with heart disease. Pain can sometimes be felt in the neck, jaw, abdomen, or back. Pain may radiate down the left arm, or the limbs may feel, numb, weak or cold. Some types of heart disease can cause intense pain in the limbs due to blood clots blocking arteries.

Fatigue

Fatigue and weakness are common symptoms in heart disease. The heart is working harder than ever, but the body may not be receiving enough blood and oxygen. You may feel especially tired after exercise or exertion.

Trouble Breathing

People with heart disease may experience shortness of breath (SOB) or trouble breathing. You may notice breathing difficulties only with exertion, or even at rest. You may feel lightheaded or dizzy, like you are going to faint. You may even faint. A dry or persistent cough may also be a symptom of heart disease.

Skin Symptoms

Heart disease may cause sweating. If your skin is not receiving enough blood and oxygen, it may appear pale grey or blue – especially your lips and nails. Some people with heart failure develop a rash on their legs. People with heart infections may have red or tender spots on their hands or feet, and their fingernails may have small red, purple or brown spots or streaks. Heart disease can cause the fingernails to appear clubbed, with fingertips rounded upward.

Swelling

If your heart is having trouble pumping blood around your body, you may notice swelling in the legs, groin, abdomen, or around the eyes. Swelling may also occur in the hands, ankles, or feet.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Heart disease can cause nausea and vomiting. Heart disease can also feel like indigestion or heartburn to some people.

Other Symptoms of Heart Disease

People with heart rhythm problems may feel a fluttering sensation – palpitations – in their chest. They may notice a racing or abnormally slow heartbeat.

Several types of heart disease can cause fever.

Depression and anxiety are common with heart disease, as with all chronic illnesses. Many people with heart disease have additional health problems such as type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and kidney disease.

Do Women Experience the Same Heart Disease Symptoms as Men?

Researchers have learned in recent years that women sometimes experience different symptoms of heart attack from those typical in men. Women, especially those with type 2 diabetes, are more likely than men to experience a “silent” heart attack with no obvious symptoms. Some women experience the same crushing chest pain and tightness that men tend to have during heart attacks, but other women do not. Variant heart attack symptoms in women might be:

  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • New or intense feeling of fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Pain in the back, neck, or jaw

Condition Guide

Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H. is assistant clinical professor of medicine at New York Medical College and in private practice specializing in cardiovascular disease in Greenwich, Connecticut. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeams and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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