The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. Early signs can include chest pain, nausea, heartburn, excess sweating, and more.

It is essential to know the early signs of heart disease. It means a person can work with a doctor to help prevent the condition from becoming life threatening. Other symptoms to look for include swollen lower legs and being unusually tired.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that across genders and most racial groups, heart disease is the most common cause of death in the United States. Some people do not find out they have heart disease until they experience symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm).

This article explains the early signs of heart disease and when to contact a doctor.

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Heart disease is an umbrella term for several conditions that can affect the heart. Types of heart disease include coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, and heart failure. Causes and risk factors include certain medical conditions such as diabetes, difficulty eating a nutritious diet, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Various signs can indicate underlying issues with the heart, some of which are below.

It is important to note that some heart conditions, such as heart attacks, are medical emergencies. If a person’s symptoms feel life threatening or they think they are having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or the local emergency number.

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Chest pain

Chest pain or discomfort is a common symptom of a heart attack. The feeling typically occurs in the center of the chest. It tends to last more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. A person may feel uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

Learn about when to seek medical help for chest pain.


Feeling nauseous on its own is not necessarily a symptom of heart disease. However, if it occurs with intense chest pain, it could be a sign that a person is having a heart attack.

Learn about chest pain and vomiting.


The heart is close to the esophagus, which is part of the digestive tract. This can make it tricky to determine whether a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen is due to problems with digestion or the heart.

Learn about the differences in feeling between a heart attack and heartburn.


Researchers do not yet fully understand the mechanisms behind this symptom. However, people with heart problems often report sweating excessively. Sweating and chest pain or discomfort could be an early sign of heart disease.

Discomfort in other areas of the body

As well as chest pain, a person with heart disease may also experience pain or discomfort elsewhere in their body. For instance, leg pain could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease, which causes fatty deposits to collect in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the leg muscles.

People who have heart attacks commonly feel pain in their left arm. This is because the nerves from the heart and the arm send messages to the same brain cells, and the brain cannot tell where the pain came from. This is “referred pain,” which also commonly affects the face and head in people having a heart attack.

Learn about the links between jaw pain and a heart attack.

Suffocating sensation

Angina is the term doctors use for chest pain or discomfort resulting from a temporary disruption to blood flow. This disruption also means less oxygen travels to the heart.

Angina causes a squeezing, burning, or suffocating feeling behind the breastbone in the chest. The suffocating sensation is due to the heart not getting enough oxygen.

Swollen ankles

Swelling in the lower legs and feet, known as peripheral edema, can be a sign of heart failure. The condition causes a reduction in blood flow, which results in fluid retention that can collect around the feet and ankles.

Extreme tiredness

Tiredness can be related to a person’s lifestyle rather than a sign of a severe heart problem. However, some people with heart disease may feel unusually tired in relation to their daily activities and sleeping habits.

If a person experiences extreme tiredness that does not seem related to activities they have done or disrupted sleep, they may wish to talk with a doctor.


An irregular heart rhythm can also indicate heart problems, including a heart attack, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, coronary heart disease, or an inherited heart condition.

Symptoms that indicate a person may need immediate medical attention include:

  • sudden chest pain or discomfort that does not go away
  • pain radiating to the right or left arm, neck, jaw, back, or stomach
  • sudden nausea, sweating, or lightheadedness
  • swollen feet, ankles, or lower legs
  • shortness of breath
  • facial weakness
  • speech problems
  • signs of a stroke
  • sudden memory loss, confusion, dizziness, or falling
  • sudden severe headache
  • sudden vision problems
  • weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • fainting or blackouts
  • palpitations

Common types of heart disease include:

  • Coronary heart disease: With this, the coronary arteries become narrow or blocked, and the heart does not receive enough blood. This may lead to a heart attack or angina.
  • Heart attack: The blood supply to part of the heart becomes entirely blocked by a blood clot or plaque. This can result in damage to the heart muscle.
  • Arrhythmia: This is an interruption to the electrical signals of the heart, causing it to beat too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia), or a combination of both.
  • Valve disease: One or more of the heart’s valves does not open or close correctly to regulate blood flow through the heart. This can increase the heart’s workload and strain the heart muscle.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is not a disease in itself, though it increases a person’s risk of coronary heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke.
  • Congenital heart disease: This occurs if the heart of a fetus develops abnormally in the womb. One example is pulmonary stenosis, which results in a narrow pulmonary valve, causing difficulty pumping blood into the lungs.
  • Inherited heart conditions: Some people inherit a heart condition through the genes they receive from one or both parents. For instance, Marfan syndrome causes connective tissue abnormalities.

The sooner a person identifies the warning signs of heart disease, the sooner they can get medical treatment. Knowing the early indicators of coronary heart disease is the most important factor in having a favorable outcome, according to one cross-sectional study from 2017.

A person can help reduce their risk of developing heart disease with certain lifestyle changes, such as:

Learn more about ways to help improve heart health.

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the U.S., so it is important to know the early signs and symptoms. These can include chest pain, nausea, heartburn, abnormal sweating, swollen ankles, and extreme tiredness.

Key signals of a medical emergency include sudden chest pain or discomfort that does not go away and pain radiating to the right or left arm, neck, jaw, back, or stomach. A person can help reduce their risk of heart disease by eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and managing their weight.