Heart disease describes a range of heart conditions, including arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, cardiomyopathy, and heart infections. The symptoms of these heart diseases, also called cardiovascular diseases, 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. In early heart disease, there may not be any symptoms. As damage progresses, symptoms may be barely noticeable or confused with other health conditions, stress, or normal aging changes. Sometimes the first sign of a heart problem is a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or a stroke.
Since early symptoms of heart disease may not be noticeable, annual physical exams at your doctor’s office often provide the best chance of detecting and treating heart disease before it progresses. Routine tests such as taking your blood pressure, listening to your heart with a stethoscope, and checking your blood cholesterol levels help your doctor diagnose potential cardiovascular problems.
Here are five common symptoms that a person may experience as heart disease progresses.
Angina (heart-related chest pain that may feel like a squeezing sensation), pressure, and discomfort are typical in people with heart disease. Pain may also be felt in your neck, shoulders, jaw, abdomen, or back. Some types of heart disease can cause blood clots that block essential arteries. This, in turn, can cause intense pain to radiate down your left arm or weakness and numbness.
Fatigue and weakness are common symptoms of heart disease. Fatigue from heart disease is different from fatigue that may occur after a sleepless night. Because heart disease weakens your heart, your body sends less blood to nonessential areas (such as your limbs) so that your brain and vital organs can get enough oxygen-rich blood. Fatigue from heart disease makes any exercise or exertion, such as climbing stairs or doing laundry, more exhausting than usual.
People with heart disease may experience dyspnea (shortness of breath) or trouble breathing. Depending on the severity of your cardiovascular disease, you may notice breathing difficulties while at rest or when you exert yourself. If heart disease is causing fluid to build up in your lungs, you may have persistent coughing or wheezing.
Heart disease may cause skin symptoms, including color changes, excessive sweating, and edema (swelling). If your skin is not receiving enough blood and oxygen, it may appear pale gray or blue, which is more noticeable on the lips and nails. When your heart has trouble pumping blood throughout your body, you may get swelling in your legs, ankles, hands, or pelvis.
Some people with heart failure develop a rash on their limbs or red or brown streaks under their fingernails. If you develop new skin symptoms, be sure to let your primary care doctor know so that you can be checked for heart disease.
Since heart disease can feel like indigestion or heartburn, the pain from a life-threatening heart condition may be overlooked. Heart disease pain can extend down into the stomach, or it may feel like heartburn that occurs after a big meal. An acute heart condition such as a heart attack may cause nausea and vomiting in some people.
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Additional symptoms of heart disease include:
It’s important to realize that not everyone will experience the same symptoms of heart disease. One person may have just a single symptom, while someone else with the same condition may experience multiple symptoms.
That is why it is important to let your doctor know about any new symptoms, particularly if you have any heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Detecting heart disease early and starting heart disease treatments can improve symptoms, slow disease progression, and reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers have learned that women sometimes experience heart disease symptoms that differ from those common in men. Women may have more subtle symptoms that are easier to ignore, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The risk of heart disease in women increases after menopause because of reduced levels of estrogen. To avoid a life-threatening heart attack, women should pay attention to any warning signs of heart disease. Some women experience the same crushing chest pain and tightness that men tend to have during heart attacks, but others do not. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a heart attack in women may include:
MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social support network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, you can connect with others who understand life with heart disease and share stories, give advice, or ask questions.
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