Heart Disease Symptoms and Signs

There are various types of diseases of the heart and great blood vessels that may cause a wide array of signs and symptoms. However the more common signs and symptoms of heart disease includes :

  • Chest discomfort or chest pain
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Edema (swelling)

Other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sweating and abdominal discomfort or pain may occur only in certain types of heart disease. Non-cardiac causes of heart disease symptoms need to also be considered if the case is not a medical emergency (refer to Cardiac and Non-Cardiac Chest Pain).

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Diseases

Chest Pain

Not every case of heart disease presents with excruciating chest pain. Many cardiovascular diseases are silent and apart from complications that may arise over time, chest pain or discomfort is almost never present. If there is chest pain, the sensation may vary from mild discomfort to moderate yet bearable ache or severe and intolerable pain. Heart disease causes of chest discomfort or pain includes :

  • Angina
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Pericarditis
  • Aortic dissection

If sweating, nausea, dizziness and pain radiating to the left arm, neck, jaw, or abdomen is present, immediate medical attention is necessary. Refer to Angina or Heart Attack Pain.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath or breathlessness may range in severity. Unless the cardiovascular system is significantly compromised, it is not uncommon for a person to experience very little change in the rate and and depth of breathing. Shortness of breath, to varying degrees, may be seen in almost every type of heart disease including :

Breathlessness to the point of gasping which is indicative of respiratory distress may be seen with :

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • End-stage heart failure


A palpitation is the sensation of the heart pounding and may include the conscious awareness of a fast or slow heart rate. Although palpitations may arise as a result of non-cardiac disorders and vary in intensity, heart disease needs to be investigated in cases of recurrent episodes or persistent palpitations. Medical attention is necessary if palpitations are associated with dizziness, fainting or nausea, especially if chest pain is present.

  • Angina
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Heart failure
  • Tachyarrhythmias

Dizziness and Fainting

Dizziness is a common symptom reported in heart disease. Hypoxia and hypotension (low blood pressure) may be temporary or persistent in almost every cardiovascular disorder and can result in a sensation from mild lightheadedness to severe dizziness.

It may alter with changes in position and can impair balance and coordination. Fainting should always be taken seriously and immediate medical attention is necessary even if other signs and symptom are absent. Some of the causes include :

  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Mitral valve prolapse
  • Arrhythymias
  • Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy


Edema is swelling as a result of fluid accumulation in the cells, tissue spaces and cavities. In cardiovascular conditions, it may be limited to the lower limbs, often restricted to the feet and lower legs, or abdomen or there may be generalized swelling (throughout the entire body). Causes include :

  • Heart failure (abdominal and leg, feet swelling)
  • Constrictive pericarditis (abdominal and leg, feet swelling)
  • Venous insufficiency (leg, feet swelling)

Generalized edema (anasarca) may be seen in end-stage heart failure.

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