Heart symptoms

Symptoms of Heart Disease

The most common symptoms of coronary heart disease are chest pain (angina) and a heart attack. You can also experience other symptoms, such as heart palpitations and unusual breathlessness. In some cases, people may not have any symptoms before they are diagnosed.

We provide information on the common heart symptoms people feel below, and which should alert you to the need to seek specialist advice. We also provide more information on the symptoms, assessments and treatments of all common heart conditions in the sections below.

Dial 999 immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know is having a heart attack.

The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina or chest pain. Angina can be described as a discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, fullness, squeezing, or painful feeling in your chest. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.

Other symptoms of coronary artery disease include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (irregular heartbeats, or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
  • A faster heartbeat
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Dial 999 immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know is having a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
  • Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats

During a heart attack, symptoms typically last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or oral medications. Initial symptoms may start as a mild discomfort that progresses to significant pain.

Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms, which is known as a “silent” myocardial infarction (MI). It occurs more often in people with diabetes.

If you think you are having a heart attack, DO NOT DELAY. Call for emergency help (dial 999). Immediate treatment of a heart attack is very important to lessen the amount of damage to your heart.

When symptoms of arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythm, are present, they may include:

  • Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or “flip-flops” in your chest)
  • Pounding in your chest
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired)

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of arrhythmia. Most people with AF experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations (a sudden pounding, fluttering, or racing feeling in the heart)
  • Lack of energy
  • Dizziness (feeling faint or light-headed)
  • Chest discomfort (pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest)
  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing during normal activities)

Some patients with atrial fibrillation have no symptoms. Episodes may be brief.

Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. Sometimes, it can be diagnosed because of a heart murmur on physical exam or an abnormal ECG or chest X-ray in someone with no symptoms.

In adults, if symptoms of congenital heart disease are present, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Limited ability to exercise
  • Symptoms of heart failure or valve disease

Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath; you may notice this most when you are doing your normal daily activities or when you lie down flat in bed.
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Discomfort in your chest; you may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
  • Palpitations (this may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats, or a flip-flop feeling in your chest.)

If valve disease causes heart failure, symptoms may include:

  • Swelling of your ankles or feet; swelling may also occur in your abdomen, which may cause you to feel bloated.
  • Quick weight gain (a weight gain of two or three pounds in one day is possible.)

Symptoms of heart valve disease do not always relate to the seriousness of your condition. You may have no symptoms at all and have severe valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Or, as with mitral valve prolapse, you may have severe symptoms, yet tests may show minor valve disease.

When present, symptoms of pericarditis may include:

  • Chest pain which is different from angina (chest pain caused by coronary artery disease); it may be sharp and located in the centre of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck and occasionally, the arms and back. It is made worse when lying down, taking a deep breath in, coughing, or swallowing and relieved by sitting forward.
  • Low-grade fever
  • Increased heart rate