What are the signs and symptoms of common heart diseases?

By Jenilee Matz, MPH Jul 19, 2023 • 7 min

Symptoms of heart problems aren't always cut and dried. For instance, many people know that chest pain is a common sign of a heart attack. But lesser known symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and persistent or chronic coughing, can also signal a heart issue. Here, we'll break down symptoms of common heart conditions.

Coronary heart disease symptoms

Coronary heart disease involves narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply the heart. This makes it more difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. If a blood clot forms, it can block the flow of blood and a heart attack can occur.

Angina is a common symptom of coronary heart disease, causing pain, pressure or a squeezing sensation in your chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. Angina is often described as feeling like indigestion. It may worsen during exercise or times of emotional stress, but it tends to go away with rest.

Note that some people with coronary heart disease don't have symptoms. This is called silent coronary heart disease. In these cases, silent coronary heart disease is often not diagnosed until other symptoms of heart disease occur, such as a heart attack, heart failure or an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate or rhythm).

Symptoms of a heart attack

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked by a blood clot. This can cause damage or death to part of the heart muscle. Signs of a heart attack or heart blockage symptoms can include:

  • Pain, pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center of your chest that stays constant or comes and goes
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Tiredness
  • Indigestion
  • Palpitations (a fluttering feeling in your heart)

What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

Heart failure happens when your heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should. This means your body doesn't receive enough blood and oxygen. Heart failure doesn't mean your heart stops beating or working. Coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure can each cause heart failure.

Congestive heart failure symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing during activity, rest or sleep. In heart failure, blood backs up into the pulmonary veins (veins that carry blood from the lungs to the heart) because the heart cannot pump blood well enough. As a result, fluid leaks into the lungs and causes breathing problems.
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing.
  • Edema (fluid buildup or swelling) in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen. When blood flow slows, blood returning to the heart backs up, which causes fluid to accumulate in the tissues.
  • Intense fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite or nausea.
  • Confusion, memory loss or trouble thinking.
  • Increased heart rate.

Arrhythmia symptoms

Arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rate or rhythm. There are several types of arrhythmia, and each kind can produce a range and variety of symptoms. Some people experience the condition as a single skipped heartbeat while others feel a fluttering or quivering sensation in their heart. Over time, arrhythmias can affect how well your heart works. This may cause more serious symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fast heartbeat or a pounding feeling in your chest
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Collapse and sudden cardiac arrest (when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating), in extreme cases

Heart murmur symptoms

Heart murmurs are the sounds your healthcare provider hears through the stethoscope when they listen to your heartbeat. If you have a normal heartbeat, your heart valves will make two sounds (like "lub-dupp"). If you have a heart murmur, turbulent blood in or near your heart may cause an extra sound between heartbeats. It may sound like whooshing or swishing.

Heart murmurs may be innocent or they may be cause for concern. Innocent heart murmurs aren't considered to be harmful and don't require treatment. They do not usually cause any other symptoms. Worrisome heart murmurs are a sign of an underlying heart problem. In children, worrisome heart murmurs are often caused by congenital (present at birth) heart disease. In adults, these heart murmurs are often due to heart valve problems.

Heart murmur symptoms can vary depending on the cause. They may not be obvious, aside from the sound your healthcare provider hears through the stethoscope.  However, some symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Chronic coughing
  • Bluish skin, especially the lips or fingernails

Enlarged heart symptoms

Cardiomegaly is the medical term for an enlarged heart. However, an enlarged heart isn't a specific condition. Rather, it's a symptom of a problem. An enlarged heart can be temporary or permanent, and may be treatable depending on the condition that's causing it. It can be a sign of a medical issue, such as a congenital heart defect, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm or cardiomyopathy (stiffening and thickening of the heart muscle). An enlarged heart can also temporarily develop during pregnancy due to the added stress on the body.

An enlarged heart often doesn't cause symptoms. However, the condition causing the enlarged heart may cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia
  • Edema

If you have any signs of heart problems, see your healthcare provider. Heart conditions can be medical emergencies so don't try to diagnose worrisome symptoms on your own. If you have any new, severe, prolonged or concerning chest pain, seek emergency medical help or call 911 right away.

Clinically reviewed and updated July 2023.

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