Coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack -- each type of heart problem requires different treatment but may share similar warning signs. It is important to see your doctor so that you can receive a correct diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Learn to recognize the symptoms that may signal heart disease. Call your doctor if you begin to have new symptoms or if they become more frequent or severe.
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, or chest pain. 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 may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.
Other symptoms of coronary artery disease include:
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Symptoms of a heart attack 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 typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications. Initial symptoms may start as a mild discomfort that progresses to significant pain.
If you think you are having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call for emergency help (dial 911 in most areas). Immediate treatment of a heart attack is very important to lessen the amount of damage to your heart.
Symptoms of Arrhythmias
When symptoms of arrhythmias, or an abnormal heart rhythm, are present, they may include:
Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation
- Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart)
- Lack of energy
- Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed)
- Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest)
- Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during normal activities)
Some patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms. Episodes may be brief.
Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease
Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath; you may notice this most when you are 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 or feet; swelling may also occur in your abdomen, which may cause you to feel bloated.
- Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible.)
Symptoms of heart valve disease do not always relate to the seriousness of your condition. 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
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 produces white sputum.
- Rapid 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 few or no symptoms.
Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. Sometimes, it can be diagnosed because of a heart murmur on physical exam or an abnormal EKG or chest X-ray in someone with no symptoms.
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 Defects in Infants and Children
Symptoms of congenital heart defects in infants and children may include:
Symptoms of Heart Muscle Disease
Many people with heart muscle disease, or cardiomyopathy, 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 may 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
- Palpitations (fluttering in the chest due to abnormal heart rhythms)
Some people also have arrhythmias. These can lead to sudden death in a small number of people with cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms of Pericarditis
When present, symptoms of pericarditis may include:
- Chest pain which is different from angina (chest pain caused by coronary artery disease); 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 when lying down, taking a deep breath in, coughing, or swallowing and relieved by sitting forward.
- Increased heart rate