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How do you know if you have heart disease?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 27, 2021.

Official answer


Symptoms that may indicate that you have heart disease include:

  • Chest pain, pressure, discomfort, or tightness
  • Being short of breath
  • Experiencing numbness, coldness, weakness, or pain in your toes, feet, or fingers
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, especially when you stand up or fainting for no apparent reason
  • Headaches
  • A fluttering, racing, irregular, or slow heartbeat
  • Pain that radiates up your neck, throat, jaw, or across your upper abdomen or back
  • Pale gray or blue skin color
  • Swelling in the lower legs, ankles, feet, or hands
  • Easily becoming short of breath or tired with light amounts of physical activity
  • Feeling tired or fatigued all the time.

Some people develop a build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels around the heart, called coronary artery disease. This build-up happens slowly over many years without any symptoms until eventually one of the blood vessels becomes narrowed or blocked, preventing blood and oxygen supply to that area of the heart, causing chest pain or a heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction). Symptoms of coronary artery disease and even a heart attack may be different for men and women. Men are more likely to have chest pain but women are more likely to experience chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, and extreme fatigue.

These are some of the symptoms that may indicate you have heart disease, but for many people, heart disease has no symptoms, that is why it is often referred to as the “silent killer”. It is not until a person experiences a significant event (such as a heart attack or stroke) or their doctor runs some tests as part of a routine checkup, that they discover damage or changes to their heart and/or blood vessels. If you have any risk factors for heart disease listed below, see your doctor at least every year for a checkup.

What are some risk factors for heart disease?

Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early. If you have no symptoms of heart disease listed above but you have risk factors for heart disease (listed below) then see your doctor at least yearly for a checkup. Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • A family member, such as a father, mother, brother, or sister, with heart disease
  • A history of an infection known to affect the heart (such as rheumatic fever)
  • A poor diet high in fats, sugar, or salt
  • Diabetes
  • Drug abuse
  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
  • Gum disease or tooth decay (germs can enter your bloodstream and affect your heart)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Obesity
  • Older age
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Stress.
  • Heart Disease. Mayo Clinic. 2021.

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