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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease?

The signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) may differ between women and men. Some women who have CHD have no signs or symptoms. This is called silent CHD.

Silent CHD may not be diagnosed until a woman has signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

Other women who have CHD will have signs and symptoms of the disease.

Heart Disease Signs and Symptoms

Illustration of an artery showing normal blood flow through the artery and also showing narrowing of the artery with abnormal blood flow.

The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease.

A common symptom of CHD is angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood.

In men, angina often feels like pressure or squeezing in the chest. This feeling may extend to the arms. Women can also have these angina symptoms. But women also tend to describe a sharp, burning chest pain. Women are more likely to have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.

In men, angina tends to worsen with physical activity and go away with rest. Women are more likely than men to have angina while they're resting or sleeping.

In women who have coronary microvascular disease, angina often occurs during routine daily activities, such as shopping or cooking, rather than while exercising. Mental stress also is more likely to trigger angina pain in women than in men.

The severity of angina varies. The pain may get worse or occur more often as the buildup of plaque continues to narrow the coronary (heart) arteries.

Signs and Symptoms Coronary Heart Disease Complications

Heart Attack

The most common heart attack symptom in men and women is chest pain or discomfort. However, only half of women who have heart attacks have chest pain.

Women are more likely than men to report back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), vomiting, extreme fatigue (tiredness), or problems breathing.

Heart attacks also can cause upper body discomfort in one or both 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 men.

Men are more likely than women to break out in a cold sweat and to report pain in the left arm during a heart attack.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. 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.

Heart failure causes shortness of breath and fatigue that tends to increase with physical exertion. Heart failure also can cause swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck.

Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.

Some people describe arrhythmias as fluttering or thumping feelings or skipped beats in their chests. These feelings are called palpitations.

Some arrhythmias can cause your heart to suddenly stop beating. This condition is called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA causes loss of consciousness and death if it's not treated right away.

Signs and Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome

The most common signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome are chest pain and shortness of breath. In this disorder, 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.

Some of the signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome differ from those of heart attack. For example, in people who have broken heart syndrome:

  • Symptoms occur suddenly after having extreme emotional or physical stress.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram) results don't look the same as the EKG results for a person having a heart attack. (An EKG is a test that records the heart's electrical activity.)
  • Blood tests show no signs or mild signs of heart damage.
  • Tests show no signs of blockages in the coronary arteries.
  • Tests show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle).
  • Recovery time is quick, usually within days or weeks (compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack).
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April 21, 2014