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Heart Disease Symptoms and Causes

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Health and Wellness

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Many people are concerned about their heart health, and are wondering, “How do I know if I have a heart problem?”

Heart problems can cause a variety of symptoms. What are the signs of a heart problem? What might cause someone to develop a heart condition?

Types of heart diseases

The term “heart disease” is actually a very broad term, encompassing any type of condition that affects the heart. Some of the more common types of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease, in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed or blocked. This is the most common heart disorder, and it can also lead to other types of heart problems, including heart attacks.

  • Cardiomyopathy, which is a disease of the heart muscle. It can result from CAD, viral infections, alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, or certain medications.

  • Heart failure, in which the heart isn’t able to pump blood well enough. This can result from CAD, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, or other conditions.

  • Arrythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm. This can occur due to a heart attack or other damage to the heart. Some people have congenital arrhythmias, meaning that they’re born with them.

  • Diseases of the heart valves. These valves normally ensure that blood doesn’t flow backwards within the heart. Some common causes of damage to the heart valves include rheumatic fever (a complication of untreated strep throat) or infections of the heart itself.

  • Congenital heart disease. This refers to a heart defect that a person is born with, such as a hole between two chambers of the heart. In people with a congenital heart condition, surgery may be used to repair the heart defect.

These are not all of the possible types of heart disease. There are also some other, more rare, conditions. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the heart, and can diagnose and treat these conditions.

Heart disease symptoms

For different types of cardiac issues, symptoms can vary. However, some of the common symptoms that a person with heart disease may experience include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness

  • Pain in the chest, upper back, neck, or arm

  • A sense of heaviness in the chest

  • Fluttering feeling in the chest

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sweating

  • Swelling in the legs and feet

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to get a medical evaluation as soon as possible for a proper heart problem diagnosis.

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Early signs of heart issues

Unfortunately, there aren’t always early warning signs of heart disease. Some people may begin to experience symptoms like chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and fatigue when they exercise. It may begin to feel more difficult to do even a small amount of exercise, such as walking up the stairs. If this happens, it’s important to visit your doctor to get an evaluation. 

Heart disease causes

Different types of heart diseases have different causes. In general, the main risk factors for coronary artery disease (the most common type of cardiac disease) are:

  • Being physically inactive

  • Smoking

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

  • Being significantly overweight

  • Stress

  • High LDL cholesterol and triglycerides

  • Genetics (especially if one or more close relatives had a heart attack before age 50)

How to test your heart health

In order to know your risk of heart disease, there are a few different tests that can be used. Blood tests for cholesterol and triglycerides are one important type of test. You can ask your doctor to order these tests, or you can order a home test kit. If you choose the home testing option, then you’ll take your blood sample yourself via a fingerprick, and mail it to the lab for testing. If you get any abnormal results, then you’ll need to see a medical professional to discuss next steps.

Getting your blood pressure checked regularly is also important, because high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Your doctor will generally check this each time you come in for a visit, and if it’s consistently in the normal range, then you may not need to check more often. If your blood pressure is high, then you may want to invest in a blood pressure machine so that you can keep track of it at home. It’s very important to get your blood pressure under control, to prevent damage to your heart, brain, kidneys, and other organs.

There are also other types of tests that are sometimes used for checking your heart health. These types of tests need to be ordered by your doctor, rather than being done at home. These include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This measures the electrical activity of your heart. An ECG may be done while you’re exercising; this is known as a stress test.

  • Echocardiogram (echo). This uses ultrasound to evaluate the structure and function of your heart.

  • Angiogram. This involves injecting dye into a blood vessel, in order to study the flow of blood and look for blockages.

  • MRI or CT. These are imaging tests, which may be used to look for structural problems in the heart or other parts of the body. They may find heart lesions, meaning damage to the heart. Heart lesion causes include heart attacks and infections.


Leading Causes of Death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm. Accessed 4 Jan 2023.

Cardiomyopathy. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cardiomyopathy. Accessed 4 Jan 2023.

About Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm. Accessed 4 Jan 2023.

5 warning signs of early heart failure. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/5-warning-signs-of-early-heart-failure. Accessed 4 Jan 2023.

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Jan 05, 2023

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