Signs and Symptoms

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease may differ between men and women. Usually, coronary heart disease is “silent” and may not be diagnosed until a person has symptoms or warning signs of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia.

Courtesy of the NHLBI

A common symptom of coronary heart disease is angina, or chest pain/discomfort that occurs in your heart muscle when it doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood.

The severity of angina varies and the pain can get worse or occur more frequently as the buldup of plaque continues to narrow the coronary arteries.

Coronary Heart Disease Complications

Heart Attack

Usually, in both men and women, chest discomfort/pain is present. It can also cause upper body discomfort in one or both of the arms, the back, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach. Other heart attack symptoms are light-headedness and dizziness, which occur more often in women than in men.

Women tend to report back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, or breathing problems. Men are more likely than women to break out into a cold sweat and report pain in the left arm during a heart attack.

Heart Failure

Heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart can’t cope with the demands of everyday activities. It can cause shortness of breath and fatigue that tends to increase with physical exertion. Heart failure can also cause swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck.


An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate/rhythm of the heartbeat. The heart can beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or with an irregular rhythm. Some people describe arrhythmias as fluttering or thumping feelings or skipped beats in their chests (palpitations).

Some arrhythmias can cause your heart to suddenly stop beating can lead to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA causes loss of consciousness and death if not treated right away.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Common symptoms of broken heart syndrome are chest pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms tend to occur suddenly in people who have no history of heart disease. Arrhythmias or cardiogenic shock also may occur. Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. People with broken heart syndrome often experience:

Recovery time is usually quickly within days or weeks (as compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack).


Heart Valve Disease

Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching breath (usually noticed during normal daily activities or when lying down flat in bed)
  • Weakness/dizziness
  • Chest discomfort (as if there is a huge pressure or weight in your chest during activity or when going out in cold air)
  • Palpitations (can feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling in the chest)

If valve disease causes heart disease, symptoms may include:

  • Swellings of your ankles or feet (can also occur in abdomen which may cause you to feel bloated)
  • Quick weight gain

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.

Cardiomyopathy (Heart Muscle Disease)

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 can occur at any age and may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Heart failure symptoms (see above)
  • Swelling of the lower extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Palpitations


Symptoms of pericarditis may include:

  • Chest pain different than angina that may become worse when laying down, taking a deep breath in, coughing, or swallowing, and relieved by sitting forward (it may be sharp and located in the center of the chest, the pain can radiate to the next and occasionally the arms and back)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Increased heart rate

To find out more about how heart disease is diagnosed and what tests can be done to do so, click here.

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