8 Symptoms of Heart Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Was this helpful?
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease is also a major cause of disability. Knowing the early symptoms and warning signs of cardiovascular disease will empower you to seek prompt medical attention when needed, to help prevent untimely death and disability.

    Don’t ignore these eight signs of heart disease.

  • 1
    Chest pain
    Middle aged woman in park experience chest pain or heart palpitations

    Chest pain is a classic heart attack symptom. If you (or a loved one) notice a sensation of heaviness, tightness, or pressure in the chest, call 911 immediately. The pain does not have to be severe; some people only report mild discomfort. Chest pain doesn’t have to persist to signal a problem either. Pain that occurs with activity but subsides with rest may be angina, which occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen during periods of physical activity.

  • 2
    Shortness of breath
    Exercising with chest pain

    Some shortness of breath during exercise is normal. However, if you find yourself short of breath during activities you once could tolerate, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether your shortness of breath is due to heart disease or another health problem.

    Difficulty breathing at rest means that your body is not getting enough oxygen. Call (or have someone else call) 911 if you are struggling to breathe.

  • 3
    Nausea or indigestion
    Businessman Feeling Sick

    Nausea, indigestion, and heartburn are commonly attributed to digestive problems, and these symptoms often indicate gastrointestinal distress or dysfunction. However, nausea and indigestion can also be symptoms of a heart attack, especially if they occur with chest pain.

    You don’t have to call the doctor for every bout of nausea, but if you experience nausea or indigestion and a general sense that “something is wrong,” seek medical attention.

  • 4
    Leg pain

    General achiness or a cramping sensation in your legs can be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a form of cardiovascular disease that’s characterized by constricted blood flow to the extremities (arms and legs). Oftentimes, the pain will occur during physical activity and subside with rest. You don’t need to call your healthcare provider immediately, but you should schedule an appointment and mention your symptoms. PAD is more common in smokers and people with diabetes than in people who don’t smoke or have diabetes.

  • 5
    Arm or jaw pain
    Young African American woman holding cheek or jaw in pain

    Heart attacks don’t always cause chest pain. In some people—particularly women—the pain or tightness may be felt in the left arm or jaw instead. Some people even experience back pain. This is called “referred pain,” where stimulated branches of the accessory nerve (close to the oxygen-starved heart) transmit pain impulses that the brain interprets as coming from other branches of the accessory nerve in the neck and shoulder. If you feel unwell, disoriented, or sweaty and are experiencing arm or jaw pain, call (or have someone else call) 911 immediately. Don’t discount your symptoms simply because you’re not feeling chest pain. Seconds count, and it’s best to seek medical attention.

  • 6
    Swollen ankles
    senior woman sitting on chair showing swollen feet and legs

    Swollen ankles or feet can be a symptom of heart failure. Of course, many other conditions (including pregnancy) can cause swelling of the lower extremities, so don’t panic. However, if your feet or legs are consistently swollen at the end of the day, mention it to your healthcare provider. Additional testing may be necessary to figure out what’s causing the swelling. If testing reveals a problem with your heart, medical and lifestyle changes may improve your overall well-being.

    Many people feel markedly better after heart disease treatment, realizing they had been unwell but did not attribute symptoms to a heart condition.

  • 7
    Unexplained fatigue
    Middle-aged man in yawning in car

    It’s normal to feel tired after a day of hard work. It’s not normal to feel completely wiped out after getting dressed. If fatigue occurs after minimal exertion, see a healthcare provider. Inadequate blood supply to the tissues—a cardinal sign of cardiovascular disease—can cause fatigue. Your body may not be getting enough oxygen to function well.

    It’s also common for women to feel severely tired before or during a heart attack. Of course, there are many reasons to feel tired. Blood and heart tests can help determine the cause of unexplained fatigue.

  • 8
    Fast or irregular heartbeat
    Middle aged woman on bed with chest pain

    The heart speeds up when you’re physically active because it’s working harder to meet your body’s increased demand for oxygen. That’s normal, healthy and expected. A racing heartbeat at rest, though, can be a symptom of atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that increases the risk of blood clots and stroke. Similarly, an irregular heartbeat can indicate an abnormal heart rhythm.

    If you experience a skipped, extra, or faster-than-normal heartbeat more than once or if you feel unwell during this time, seek medical attention.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 19
View All Heart Health Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Heart Diseases. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/heartdiseases.html
  2. Heart Disease. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118?p=1
  3. Symptoms of Heart Valve Disease. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-valve-problems-and-disease/heart-valve-disease-risks-signs-and-symptoms/symptoms-of-heart-valve-problems
  4. About Heart Disease. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm
  5. 11 Signs You Might Have Heart Disease. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/11-signs-you-might-have-heart-disease
  6. Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000775.htm