Heart Disease Symptoms

Heart disease is an umbrella term for a group of health conditions that affect the way the heart functions. These heart-related health conditions include coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmias, heart attack, and heart failure, among others. It is possible to have more than one heart condition at a time.

The symptoms of heart disease can vary depending on the specific heart condition that you have. But, there are some symptoms that several heart conditions share in common, such as chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue. In some cases—especially in the early stages of heart disease—you may not experience any symptoms at all.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for males and females in the United States—thus, it is important to know the symptoms of different types of heart diseases and visit your healthcare provider if you start to notice changes to your health.

older man having heart problems

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Symptoms by Condition

While many heart diseases have some common signs of illness, you can experience different symptoms depending on the type of heart disease that you have.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. CAD occurs when there is a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. These blockages are called plaques.

In the early stages, plaques are very small. But, as they get bigger, they can cause the arteries to become narrow and restrict blood flow to and from the heart. The process of narrowing arteries is called atherosclerosis.

Symptoms of CAD include:

  • Angina, or pain and pressure in your chest, shoulders, neck, arms, stomach, and back
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath which worsens with physical activity
  • Cold sweats

Infective Endocarditis

Infective endocarditis (IE) is an infection of the innermost layer of heart tissue—which includes the valves, blood vessels, and heart muscle. Having surgery, injecting certain drugs into your veins, and getting dental procedures can all introduce bacteria into your bloodstream that can cause this type of infection.

Symptoms of IE include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Joint pain
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling in the feet and legs

Cardiac Arrhythmias

If you have a cardiac (heart) arrhythmia, you have an abnormal heart rhythm—which can mean your heart beats too fast, too slow, or just irregularly. Some types of arrhythmias may not cause any symptoms at all, while others can be a medical emergency.

Symptoms of some arrhythmias include:

  • Palpitations, or a racing or skipping heartbeat
  • Feeling weak, dizzy, or lightheaded
  • Fainting spells
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Alternating slow and fast heart rates
  • Anxiety

Heart Failure

Heart failure happens when your heart is not able to pump enough blood that your body needs. Heart failure is a serious condition that often requires medical attention—but, it does not mean that your heart has stopped beating.

Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath that worsens when you're lying down and when you're exerting yourself
  • Fluid or water retention that causes swelling in the hands and feet (edema)
  • Coughing or wheezing that won’t go away
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Confusion or cloudy thinking

Heart Valve Disease

A healthy heart has four valves that help keep your blood flowing in the right direction. Your symptoms can differ based on which of your four valves are not working properly. There are three primary kinds of valve problems:

  • Stenosis: The valve becomes stiff and does not open wide enough for proper blood flow
  • Regurgitation: The valve does not close properly, causing blood to leak and flow backward
  • Atresia: The valve is not constructed properly and there is no open space for blood to flow

Symptoms of valve-related heart conditions include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling too tired to complete regular activities
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Swollen ankles or stomach
  • Irregular heartbeat

Pericarditis 

The pericardium is a tough membrane that surrounds the heart. When the membrane becomes damaged, you can develop a condition called pericarditis.

Symptoms of pericarditis include:

  • Stabbing chest pain that worsens when taking deep breaths
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling in the stomach, legs, ankles, or feet

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy affects the heart muscles and causes the heart muscle to become enlarged. With this condition, your heart muscle can have difficulty pumping blood to major organs and other parts of the body.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity or exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Fainting spells that can happen during physical activity
  • Abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Chest pain
  • Heart murmur, or an atypical sound of your heartbeat

Congenital Heart Defect

A congenital heart defect is the most common type of birth defect and affects newborn babies. The condition usually occurs due to a problem with development during pregnancy. Symptoms can change as you or your baby get older.

General symptoms of a congenital heart defect include:

  • A blue color in the lips, fingernails, or skin tone
  • Feeling very tired which can worsen during physical activity
  • Trouble breathing and shortness of breath
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Heart murmur

Peripheral Arterial Disease

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries that carry blood from your heart to other parts of the body become narrow.

Symptoms of PAD include:

  • Muscle cramps in your hips, thighs, and calves that worsen with physical activity
  • Leg pain that persists while you are resting
  • Wounds in your feet that don’t heal
  • Toes or feet that appear discolored or darkened
  • Skin that is cold to the touch

Pulmonary Hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that affects the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your lungs.

Symptoms of pulmonary hypertension include:

  • Difficulty breathing that worsens with physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Retaining fluids in the abdomen or arms and legs

Cerebrovascular Disease

Cerebrovascular disease is a condition that affects blood flow between the heart and brain. This condition is commonly referred to as a stroke. Any damage to the blood vessels between the heart and brain can reduce blood flow and lead to life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of cerebrovascular disease include:

  • Dizziness
  • Numbness on one side of the body
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling disoriented or experiencing memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Lack of coordination or loss of balance

How to Recognize a Stroke

A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a healthcare provider. An easy acronym to spot if someone is having a stroke and identify the next steps is “FAST”:


  • F: Face drooping, an uneven smile, or numbness on one side of the face
  • A: Arm weakness on one side
  • S: Speech difficulty including slurred speech, confusion, and difficulty finding words
  • T: Time to call 911, if you notice the above three symptoms


Myocardial Infarction 

Myocardial infarction is the clinical term for a heart attack—a condition that causes the damage or death of a part of the heart muscle. A heart attack happens due to a lack of blood flow to the heart, which can limit the heart from getting the right amount of oxygen to function.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain 
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Discomfort in your arms, back, neck, or stomach 
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling lightheaded

A heart attack is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a healthcare provider. You can receive proper care by calling 911.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Heart disease symptoms can often mimic other health conditions. But, heart disease is not something to take lightly.

If you begin to notice changes to your heart health or experience any of the above symptoms, it’s good practice to visit your healthcare provider for an evaluation. Additionally, if someone in your family has a history of heart disease, you should also reach out to your provider for testing because heart disease can run in the family.

During your appointment, your healthcare provider may order a variety of blood, imaging, and laboratory tests to check the function of your heart. While getting tested for heart disease may seem scary, it’s better to receive an early diagnosis for a heart condition to improve your overall quality of life and prevent serious complications.

A Quick Review

Heart disease encompasses several types of conditions that affect the functioning of the heart. Many heart conditions have some symptoms in common: chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, or a fast heartbeat. Symptoms can also vary depending on the specific heart condition that you have.

If you begin to experience classic signs of a heart condition, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get tested. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 911 immediately—as these are medical emergencies.

Heart disease is a serious condition and without treatment, it can be fatal. Receiving an early diagnosis can get you started on treatment sooner and teach you how to incorporate lifestyle changes that can help you better manage your condition.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About heart disease

  2. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary artery disease.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Coronary heart disease symptoms.

  4. American Heart Association. Heart valves and infective endocarditis.

  5. American Heart Association. Symptoms, diagnosis and monitoring of arrhythmia.

  6. American Heart Association. Heart failure signs and symptoms.

  7. MedlinePlus. Heart valve diseases

  8. American Heart Association. Symptoms of heart valve disease.

  9. American Heart Association. Symptoms and diagnosis of pericarditis.

  10. American Heart Association. Symptoms and diagnosis of cardiomyopathy.

  11. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Congenital heart defects symptoms.

  12. American Heart Association. Symptoms of PAD

  13. Hoeper MM, Ghofrani HA, Grünig E, et al. Pulmonary hypertension. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017;114(5):73-84. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0073

  14. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Cerebrovascular disease.

  15. American Stroke Association. Stroke symptoms

  16. American Heart Association. Warning signs of a heart attack.

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