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Heart Disease Health Center

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Understanding Heart Disease -- Symptoms

Heart Valve Disease

Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Discomfort in your chest during an activity
  • Palpitations that 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
  • 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, or you may have severe symptoms but minor valve disease. Often, the first sign of valve problems is a heart murmur that is found incidentally during a routine physical examination.


Congenital Heart Disease

In adults, if symptoms of congenital heart disease are present, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Limited ability to exercise
  • Symptoms of heart failure (see above) or valve disease (see above)


Congenital Heart Disease in Infants and Children

Symptoms of congenital heart disease in infants and children may include:

  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, fingernails, and lips)
  • Fast breathing and poor feeding
  • Poor weight gain
  • Recurrent lung infections
  • Inability to exercise 

Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)

Many people with heart muscle disease have no symptoms or only minor symptoms and live a normal life. Other people develop symptoms, which progress and worsen as heart function worsens.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy can occur at any age and may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity, but can also occur with rest or after meals)
  • Heart failure symptoms (see above)
  • Swelling of the lower extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms)

Sudden death can occur in a small number of people with cardiomyopathy.


When present, symptoms of pericarditis may include:

  • Chest pain. This pain is different from angina. It may be sharp and located in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck and occasionally, the arms and back. It is made worse by lying down, coughing, swallowing, or taking a deep breath, and is relieved by sitting forward.
  • Low-grade fever
  • Increased heart rate


Call Your Doctor If:

  • You experience unusual chest pain, particularly if it persists or recurs. It may be heartburn, but it could also indicate angina or even a heart attack.
  • You experience recurring disturbances of your heartbeat. If frequent or persistent, irregular heartbeats may signal a serious heart condition.
  • You become suddenly dizzy, lightheaded, weak or faint. Even if the cause is not heart disease, it could be serious.

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.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 26, 2014

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