11 Heart Disease Symptoms (You Shouldn’t Ignore)

Medical review: Dr. Ana Luiza Lima
Cardiologist
August 2022

Symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, palpitations, ankle swelling or chest pain can indicate heart disease. Some conditions that present with these symptoms include coronary artery disease and cardiac failure, which can be life-threatening. 

Heart disease usually develops over time, which is why some symptoms may not be very noticeable at first. Some symptoms can also be confused for other conditions, like having shortness of breath and thinking you are just not physically fit. Some heart conditions are only identified through routine tests, like an ECG or stress test. 

If you suspect you may have heart disease, you should see your family doctor or a cardiologist for a thorough assessment. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis, and may involve diet changes and medications like anti-hypertensives and diuretics. 

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The main symptoms associated with heart disease are: 

1. Snoring

Snoring may be related to heart disease, and can appear with conditions like arrhythmias, cardiac failure and coronary artery disease. Some people may also notice shortness of breath and chest pain with exertion.  

2. Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath usually emerges after strenuous activity, like going up several flights of stairs or climbing a ladder. However, it is considered to be serious if it appears with normal daily activities, like walking, taking a bath or even at rest. 

Many people with heart disease may experience even worse shortness of breath when lying down, which can interfere with sleep. They may find more relief by sleeping in a slightly elevated position. 

See other causes of shortness of breath and what you can do to relieve this symptom.

3. Chest pain or discomfort or pain

Chest pain is often characterized as a burning or tightness. It can worsen with physical activity or when exercising. Generally, chest pain should resolve within 30 to 60 seconds of rest. 

Chest discomfort can also occur during stressful moments or with anxiety attacks, and can radiate to the arm, neck and jaw. It is generally felt more on the left-side, and can be a sign of a heart attack.

Learn more about what causes chest pain and what to do.

4. Persistent dry cough

A dry cough can be a sign of a heart problem, especially when it occurs with shortness of breath and/or worsens when lying down. Check out ways you can treat a dry cough.

5. Blue finger tips 

Blue finger tips are usually a sign of decreased oxygen in the blood. This symptom can occur with cardiac failure, and is usually accompanied by shortness of breath and fatigue. 

6. Dizziness and fainting

Dizziness and fainting may be a sign that the heart is having trouble pumping blood to the rest of the body. These symptoms are common in people with a history of arrhythmias or aortic insufficiency. Generally, other symptoms can include increased heart rate, coughing, shortness of breath on exertion, and chest pain. 

7. Palpitations or increased heart rate 

Having palpitations or a fast heart rate can be a sign of an arrhythmia, cardiac failure or coronary artery disease. These conditions will also produce symptoms like shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, fainting or chest pain. 

Learn more about ways to slow down your heart rate and control palpitations.

8. Leg, ankle or foot swelling

Swelling in the legs, ankles or feet may indicate that the heart is struggling to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can occur with congestive heart failure, which is associated with difficulty in blood return. This condition is characterized by pooling of blood in the lower extremities, which can cause swelling. 

Learn about what else can swollen feet and ankles and how to treat this symptom.

9. Fatigue

Fatigue is another symptoms that is commonly noted in heart disease, especially when it is frequent. Fatigue can start to emerge only with physical activity, however over time, people with heart disease will feel tired after normal activities of daily living, like walking or showering. 

In advanced stages, fatigue can even be felt when at rest. 

10. Cold sweats

Cold sweats accompanied by intense shortness of breath, chest pain or stomach burning can be a sign of cardiac failure or coronary artery disease. 

11. Indigestion, nausea or loss of appetite

Feeling indigestion, nausea or loss of appetite can be a sign of a heart problem, especially when accompanied by burning in the stomach. Other symptoms may include chest pain or discomfort, intense sweating and anxiety.

The burning sensation in the stomach can worsen with activity, like running or going up stairs, but usually improves with 5 to 15 minutes of rest. 

Online symptom checker 

If you think you may have a heart condition, report your symptoms below to assess your risk: 

  1. 1.Frequent snoring during sleep
  2. 2.Shortness of breath at rest or on exertion
  3. 3.Chest pain or discomfort
  4. 4.Dry and persistent cough
  5. 5.Bluish color on fingertips
  6. 6.Frequent dizziness or fainting
  7. 7.Palpitations or tachycardia
  8. 8.Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
  9. 9.Excessive fatigue for no apparent reason
  10. 10.Cold sweats
  11. 11.Poor digestion, feeling sick or loss of appetite

Regardless of the quiz results, if you suspect you may have heart disease, you should see a doctor for further evaluation. 

Risks for heart disease 

The main factors that increase your risk for heart disease are:

  • Uncontrolled hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Uncontrolled diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • An unhealthy diet that is high in fat and sugar 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 

In addition, the use of toxic substances like tobacco and alcohol can also contribute to the development of heart disease. These substances can increase arterial blood pressure and cause damage to blood vessels. 

Tests for heart disease 

If you suspect you may have a heart condition, you should consult a doctor who will perform a physical assessment and order cardiac testing to evaluate heart function, like a chest x-ray, ECG, echocardiogram or a stress test. 

In addition, the doctor may also order blood test to check troponin and CK-MB levels. These values will usually be abnormal following a heart attack. 

Prevention measures

To prevent heart disease, you are advised to maintain a healthy diet that is low in salt, sugar and fat. You should also engage in regular physical activity and make a conscious effort to move more. Some examples to incorporate more activity into your day to day include taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting up to change the channel on the TV. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in August 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Ana Luiza Lima - Cardiologist in August 2022.

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Medical review:
Dr. Ana Luiza Lima
Cardiologist
Physician who studied Medicine at the UFPE in 2008 and specializes in Cardiology. Licensed to practice under licence #16886 of the CRM-PE, Brazil.