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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetic Heart Disease?

Some people who have diabetic heart disease (DHD) may have no signs or symptoms of heart disease. This is called “silent” heart disease. Diabetes-related nerve damage that blunts heart pain may explain why symptoms aren't noticed.

Thus, people who have diabetes should have regular medical checkups. Tests may reveal a problem before they're aware of it. Early treatment can reduce or delay related problems.

Some people who have DHD will have some or all of the typical symptoms of heart disease. Be aware of the symptoms described below and seek medical care if you have them.

If you think you're having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 right away for emergency care. Treatment for a heart attack works best when it's given right after symptoms occur.

Coronary Heart Disease

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

Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. You also may feel it in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Angina pain may even feel like indigestion. The pain tends to get worse with activity and go away with rest. Emotional stress also can trigger the pain.

See your doctor if you think you have angina. He or she may recommend tests to check your coronary arteries and to see whether you have CHD risk factors.

Other CHD signs and symptoms include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, sweating, light-headedness, and weakness.

Some people don't realize they have CHD until they have a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if a blood clot forms in a coronary artery and blocks blood flow to part of the heart muscle.

The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.

The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. The feeling can be mild or severe. Heart attack pain sometimes feels like indigestion or heartburn. Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort.

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 include nausea, vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness, breaking out in a cold sweat, sleep problems, fatigue, and lack of energy.

Some heart attack symptoms are similar to angina symptoms. Angina pain usually lasts for only a few minutes and goes away with rest. Chest pain or discomfort that doesn't go away or changes from its usual pattern (for example, occurs more often or while you're resting) can be a sign of a heart attack.

If you don't know whether your chest pain is angina or a heart attack, call 9–1–1 right away for emergency care.

Not everyone who has a heart attack has typical symptoms. If you've already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. Also, diabetes-related nerve damage can interfere with pain signals in the body. As a result, some people who have diabetes may have heart attacks without symptoms.

Heart Failure

The most common symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fatigue, and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in your neck. As the heart weakens, heart failure symptoms worsen.

People who have heart failure can live longer and more active lives if the condition is diagnosed early and they follow their treatment plans. If you have any form of DHD, talk with your doctor about your risk of heart failure.

Diabetic Cardiomyopathy

Diabetic cardiomyopathy may not cause symptoms in its early stages. Later, you may have weakness, shortness of breath, a severe cough, fatigue, and swelling of the legs and feet.

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Last Updated: September 20, 2011