Understanding Heart Disease -- Symptoms

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 07, 2019

What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?

Each type of heart disease has its own symptoms, although there is some overlap. Bear in mind that some forms of heart disease may have no noticeable symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease?

Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:

  • Angina, 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 shoulder, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (irregular heart beats, skipped beats, or a "flip-flop" feeling in your chest)
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction or MI)

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest or left arm
  • Fullness, indigestion, or a choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
  • Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats


Heart attack symptoms usually last 30 minutes or longer, and are not relieved by rest or by taking a form of heart medication called nitroglycerin. However, some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms. A ''silent'' heart attack can occur among all people, though it occurs more often among people with diabetes.

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.

Heart Failure

Symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Shortness of breath (often causes a hacking cough)
  • Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible)
  • Swelling in ankles, legs, and abdomen
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Other symptoms include nausea, palpitations, chest pain, waking suddenly at night unable to breathe, and changes in sleep patterns

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, but no symptoms.


Arrhythmia symptoms 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, feeling lightheaded, or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Weakness or fatigue

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



Myers, R., Heart Disease: Everything You Need to Know, Firefly Books Ltd, 2004. 

Verheugt, F.; Tonkin, A., "Artherosclerosis and Heart Disease," Taylor & Francis Group; 1st edition, 2003. 

WebMD Medical reference: "Heart Disease."

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