Signs & Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease

Updated March 23, 2017

Coronary heart disease is a condition where one or more of an individual's coronary arteries become constricted or blocked due to plaque formation. The coronary arteries carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart, and the plaque build-up robs the heart of this blood. This condition is the leading cause of heart attacks. Individuals experiencing the signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease should seek immediate medical attention before they have a heart attack.

Chest Discomfort

Pain in the chest, or angina, is one common sign of coronary heart disease. This occurs when the heart is robbed of oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. It can feel like severe pain, but it can also feel like pressure or squeezing in the chest. Women sometimes describe the sensation as a burning pain in the upper abdomen or chest. Angina tends to travel to the arms, neck, jaw, shoulders or back. True angina will become more painful with activity and less painful with rest.

Shortness of Breath

Another symptom of coronary heart disease is shortness of breath, which typically occurs when the disease is causing a heart attack. When the heart is not pumping properly, blood is not circulating through the body as it should. As a result, fluid begins to build up in your lungs, causing shortness of breath. This symptom becomes more intense with physical exertion. If you experience angina accompanied by breathing difficulties, call for emergency medical help immediately.

Other Symptoms

Besides angina and shortness of breath, coronary heart disease can cause symptoms that feel like indigestion. Some patients, particularly women, mistake the sensation for that of heartburn. Others describe it as a feeling of fullness or choking. Nausea and vomiting can be a symptom of coronary heart disease. Some patients experience cold sweats. The condition can also cause rapid or irregular heartbeats. According to the National Institutes of Health, some individuals with coronary heart disease will experience no symptoms until they have a heart attack. This is known as silent coronary heart disease.

Symptoms in Women

Women with heart disease often do not exhibit typical heart disease symptoms. Many often think the sensations they are feeling are related to indigestion. Fatigue, problems with sleep and problems with anxiety are other signs of coronary heart disease frequently reported by women. One study, quoted by Cleveland Clinic, surveyed 515 women with heart disease, and 78 per cent of those women reported one of these non-heart symptoms for over a month before they were diagnosed. Only 30 per cent of the participants experienced chest pain or discomfort.

Duration of Symptoms

Chest pain and the other symptoms of coronary heart disease can happen for a variety of reasons, and the length of time the pain lasts can indicate whether or not it points to coronary heart disease, according to Cleveland Clinic. When it is triggered by coronary heart disease, it will last for five minutes or longer. If an outside stressor, such as physical exertion or stress, causes the symptoms, removing that cause will bring relief. People who are experiencing bouts of angina that last for five or more minutes need to call emergency personnel immediately, because this can be a sign of a heart attack.

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About the Author

Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006, specializing in real estate, finance and travel. When she's not writing, she enjoys traveling and has visited several countries, including Israel, Spain, France and Guam. Harms received a Bachelor of Science in Education from Maranatha Baptist Bible College.