Since cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States, being able to recognize the onset of the disease is of the utmost importance. CVD, however, is not one disease but a category of heart-related conditions. These include hypertension, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure.

Since all of these conditions are related to the heart in some way, they naturally share many symptoms. Among these, chest pain and palpitations (racing of the heart) are the most common. Otherwise, each form of CVD can have very specific symptoms to keep an eye out for. Knowing the symptoms for each form of CVD might help you differentiate between the presence of an intermediate-level problem (hypertension) and the onset of an emergency (heart attack).

Hypertension. Symptoms for high-blood pressure are rare and elusive, and the condition is diagnosed through testing. However, some signs of the condition may be headaches, swelling of the extremities, facial flushing and heart palpitations.

Coronary heart disease (CHD). One very common form of CHD is myocardial infarction (heart attack). Besides chest pain and palpitations, signs of CHD include heartburn, dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea. Pain or discomfort in the following areas is also common: back, jaw, throat and arms. It is especially important to recognize the signs of a heart attack, as mere minutes lost in delay can mean the difference between life and death.

Cardiac arrhythmias. Fluttering sensations in the chest, skipping heartbeats, difficulty catching your breath, dizziness, fainting spells, fatigue and weight loss are all possible signs of cardiac arrhythmia. This form of CVD is more commonly referred to as an irregular heartbeat.

Heart failure. In addition to typical CVD symptoms, signs specific to heart failure include shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, heat or humidity intolerance, chronic cough, fatigue, edema, rapid breathing rate, abnormal heart rhythm, rapid heart rate, sweating, cyanosis of extremities, wheezing, orthopnea (shortness of breath while lying down), hemoptysis and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspea (shortness of breath that intermittently interrupts sleep). Abnormally rapid weight gain is also a common occurrence.


Though you should receive an official diagnosis by a medical professional, having a feel for the symptoms of each form of CVD can help you be better prepared for an emergency. If you experience any symptoms, especially if you have risk factors for CVD, seek medical help immediately.