Diseases & Treatments
Heart Disease: Symptoms
Coronary artery disease, heart attack -- each type of heart disease has different symptoms, although many heart problems have similar symptoms. The symptoms you experience depend on the type and severity of your heart condition. Learn to recognize your symptoms and the situations that cause them. Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe.
Coronary Artery Disease
The most common symptom is angina. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw or back.
Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Palpitations (irregular heart beats, skipped beats or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest)
- A faster heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
- Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction or MI)
Symptoms can include:
Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone
Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm
Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
Sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness
Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath
Rapid or irregular heartbeats
During a heart attack, symptoms last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications (medications taken by mouth). Initial symptoms can start as a mild discomfort that progresses to significant pain.
Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a "silent" MI). A silent MI can occur among all people, though it occurs more often among diabetics.
If you think you are having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call for emergency help (dial 911 in most areas). Quick treatment of a heart attack is very important to lessen the amount of damage to your heart.
When symptoms of arrhythmias are present, they may include:
Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or "flip-flops," or feeling that your heart is "running away").
Pounding in your chest.
Dizziness or feeling light-headed.
Shortness of breath.
Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired).
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of arrhythmia. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart).
Lack of energy; tired.
Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed).
Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest).
Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during activities of daily living).
Heart Valve Disease
Symptoms of Heart valve disease can include:
Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. You may notice this most when you are active (doing your normal daily activities) or when you lie down flat in bed.
Weakness or dizziness.
Discomfort in your chest. You may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
Palpitations (this may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in your chest).
If valve disease causes heart failure, symptoms may include:
Swelling of your ankles, feet or abdomen. Swelling may also occur in your belly, which may cause you to feel bloated.
Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible).
Symptoms do not always relate to the seriousness of your valve disease. You may have no symptoms at all and have severe valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Or, as with mitral valve prolapse, you may have severe symptoms, yet tests may show minor valve disease.
Symptoms of Heart failure can include:
- Shortness of breath noted during activity (most commonly) or at rest, especially when you lie down flat in bed.
- Cough that is productive of a white mucus.
- Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible).
- Swelling in ankles, legs and abdomen.
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
Other symptoms include nausea, palpitations and chest pain.
Like valve disease, heart failure symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is. You may have many symptoms, but your heart function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a severely damaged heart, with little or no symptoms.