The term “heart disease” refers to several heart conditions, each with different symptoms. Heart disease feels different from person to person depending on the condition they have, its severity, and other factors.

Heart disease refers to any condition that affects how the heart pumps blood, or how blood flows around the heart. Doctors may also use the term cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Not everyone who has CVD will experience symptoms, but some general warning signs may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fatigue, or extreme tiredness
  • dizziness
  • swelling in the legs or ankles

This article will look at the signs and symptoms of some heart diseases and explain when to seek medical help.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some heart diseases can be silent. This means they do not cause symptoms. A person may not know they have heart disease until it causes complications, such as:

  • arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat
  • heart attack, which happens when the heart does not get enough blood
  • heart failure, which happens when the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body

In other cases, people can experience symptoms early on, but this depends on a person’s circumstances.

Below are some of the symptoms a person may experience if they have heart disease.

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of CVD in the United States. It develops when substances build up in the arteries, restricting the blood flow to the heart. This can result in a heart attack.

Not everyone with CAD will experience symptoms to begin with. Those who do may have:

  • chest pain, particularly during physical activity
  • chest pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, left arm or back
  • heart palpitations, or flutters
  • shortness of breath

Heart valve disease

Heart valve disease, or valvular disease, refers to damage or disease to any of the heart’s four valves. These valves open and close to channel and control the flow of blood around the heart’s four chambers.

Heart valve disease does not always cause symptoms. If it does, a person may experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • rapid weight gain
  • irregular heartbeat
  • dizziness or fainting

Congenital heart defect

If someone has a congenital heart defect (CHD), it means their heart did not develop as it should have. This can affect the way blood flows around the heart, and the way the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body.

There are many types of CHD, and the signs vary by type. Some types cause few or no symptoms. Some CHDs cause symptoms early in life, while others may cause symptoms later on.

Potential signs of a CHD include:

  • a blue tint to the nails or lips
  • fast or troubled breathing
  • difficulty feeding, in babies, due to shortness of breath
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • tiring quickly during exercise
  • swelling in the ankles, feet, or hands
  • extreme fatigue

Untreated heart diseases can cause complications, which can cause their own symptoms. These include:


Arrhythmia is the medical term for an irregular heartbeat. There are different types, but atrial fibrillation is the most common.

Some people will not have any symptoms, while others may experience:

  • palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • swelling, particularly in the legs and feet

Heart failure

Heart failure means the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It is usually the result of CAD or a heart attack.

The symptoms tend to include:

  • fatigue
  • breathing difficulties
  • swelling in the legs

Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when the heart does not get enough blood. CAD causes most heart attacks.

The symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person. They may include:

  • chest pain, pressure, or squeezing that lasts for 2 minutes or more
  • pain or discomfort in the upper arms, jaw, abdomen, back, or neck
  • sweating
  • nausea or vomiting

The symptoms of heart disease can differ between males and females. In many places, there are also differences in the way that doctors treat heart disease based on sex or gender.

For example, a doctor may miss heart disease in females because:

  • the symptoms tend to appear later in the disease in females than in males
  • the diagnostic tests for heart disease are less accurate for females than males
  • some people perceive heart disease as a male illness and therefore may not test for it

The symptoms of a heart attack can also differ by sex. While both males and females can experience the classic symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath, only half of females experience chest pain. Other symptoms females report include:

  • tightness or pain in the jaw, back, or neck
  • chest discomfort or burning, similar to heartburn
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fatigue
  • vomiting

Learn more about heart disease in females.

Anyone who is concerned they have symptoms of heart disease should speak with their doctor as soon as possible.

Heart disease does not always cause symptoms. That is why the National Institutes of Health recommends that people get regular heart checkups, particularly as they age. Early diagnosis can help prevent heart disease from causing serious complications.

Anyone who has the signs and symptoms of a heart attack should call 911 or their local emergency number straight away.

Heart disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the heart. They do not always cause symptoms, but they can make people feel short of breath, dizzy, or tired, particularly during exercise. Other warning signs include chest pain or swelling in the legs, feet, or hands.

People should contact a doctor right away if they are concerned they have symptoms of heart disease. Regular checkups are also important for identifying any early signs.