Signs and Symptoms of Heart Problems


Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when heart muscles don’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood flow. Symptoms of angina include a feeling of pressure or squeezing pain in the chest. The pain may also appear in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, upper abdomen or back.

In many cases, angina is a sign of coronary artery disease, which occurs when the blood vessels leading to the heart are blocked and oxygen flow is decreased. When the heart is deprived of oxygen, chest pain is often a symptom.

Types of angina include stable and unstable. Stable angina has a predictable pattern, and can generally be managed easily because you can determine what triggers the pain and how to relieve it. Unstable angina is less predictable and more severe. It may also be a warning sign of a heart attack. Not all chest pain is angina. Always seek medical attention at the first sign of chest pain.

If you already have angina, you can help prevent symptoms by recognizing what triggers the condition. If you don’t have angina, preventing coronary artery disease may reduce your chance of getting it. Steps to prevent angina and coronary artery disease include following a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, managing cholesterol and blood pressure, and maintaining a healthy weight.


Arrhythmia is a problem with the rhythm of the heartbeat—beating too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Many arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be life-threatening, especially since a lack of blood flow to the body can damage the brain, heart and other organs.

Noticeable symptoms of arrhythmia include fainting, dizziness, heart palpitations, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. Common causes of arrhythmias are heart disease, stress, smoking, heavy alcohol use and certain medications.

Treatment for arrhythmias depends on the type and severity of irregular heart rhythm. In most cases, people with arrhythmias can live normal, healthy lives. Always discuss irregular heart beat symptoms with your doctor.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm condition. This type of heartbeat is characterized by an extremely rapid rhythm, which can reduce the heart’s efficiency to pump blood out to the body. As a result, blood clots can form in the heart chambers, potentially reaching the brain and causing a stroke or heart failure.

AF is typically due to an existing heart condition. Other causes of atrial fibrillation include high blood pressure, heart attack and coronary artery disease. Dizziness, feeling out of breath, tiredness, a feeling that the heart is racing or fluttering, uneven heart beating and chest pain are all common symptoms.

Atrial fibrillation is common in older adults and may not present obvious symptoms. Seeing a doctor at the first onset of AF symptoms is important to avoid serious complications. Goals of treatment include restoring rhythm as close to normal as possible and preventing the formation of blood clots.


Cardiomyopathy is a broad term that refers to a disease of the heart muscle. The heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or abnormally rigid, and as cardiomyopathy progresses, the heart becomes weaker. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart rhythm problems, heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy generally get worse as the disease progresses. In some cases, patients may not experience any symptoms in the early stages.

Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet and legs
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Dizziness/ lightheadedness

Goals of treatment include controlling symptoms, reducing complications and preventing the disease from getting worse. Treatment for cardiomyopathy includes lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery.


People with high blood cholesterol are at a much greater risk of getting heart disease. Because high blood cholesterol does not often cause symptoms on its own, many people are unaware their cholesterol level is too high.

The buildup of cholesterol is called plaque. Over time, plaque buildup can cause hardening of the arteries, a dangerous condition known as atherosclerosis. This harmful plaque can burst (rupture), releasing cholesterol and fat into the bloodstream and may cause your blood to clot. A clot can block the flow of blood, which puts you at high risk for angina or a heart attack.

Working with your doctor to reduce your blood cholesterol level is the key to preventing serious heart problems and may slow down, reduce or even stop plaque from accumulating. Lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol include eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet; exercising; quitting smoking; drinking alcohol in moderation; and controlling diabetes and high blood pressure.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition in which fatty plaque is deposited along the walls of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. When the coronary arteries are narrowed and hardened by plaque, blood can’t reach the heart muscle. This can lead to angina or a heart attack.

Symptoms depend on many factors, including gender and age. Some people have no noticeable symptoms while others may experience chest discomfort, as well as fatigue and shortness of breath.

CAD is the number one killer for both men and women in the United States. Risk factors for CAD often include diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and a family history of CAD. Controlling these risk factors is the key to preventing illness and death from coronary artery disease. Lifestyle changes and medical procedures administered by your cardiologist can help prevent or treat CAD.

Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, occurs when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. If the blood supply is not restored quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die due to lack of oxygen. This can cause permanent damage to the heart and in worst cases, death.

Heart attacks should not be confused with heart failure. Heart failure is a chronic, long-standing condition in which the heart can no longer pump adequate blood supply for the body's needs.

Know the symptoms

  • Tightness and discomfort in the chest area. Most heart attacks cause pain in the center of the chest, lasting for more than a few minutes. Discomfort may subside for a minutes and then return. The sensation is an uncomfortable pressure, a feeling of swelling, fullness, or a painful squeezing.
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This symptom may occur before any feeling of discomfort arises in the chest, but most often accompanies it.
  • Sweating and nausea. Breaking out in a cold sweat and feeling nauseated or lightheaded are also common symptoms of a heart attack.

Symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. If you think you may be having a heart attack, seek medical help and call 911 immediately.

The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major symptoms of a heart attack:

To improve your heart health and prevent a heart attack, maintain a healthy weight, exercise, quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure and cholesterol, and visit your doctor or cardiac specialist for regular medical checkups.

Remember, if you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Heart Failure

Heart failure (congestive heart failure) occurs when the heart fails to pump blood in order to maintain the needs of the body. It is a very common condition, affecting an estimated 5 million people in the United States and contributing to approximately 300,000 deaths each year. In most cases, heart failure is a chronic and ongoing condition, but it can also develop suddenly.

The best way to prevent heart failure is to manage risk factors that lead to heart failure, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, obesity or diabetes. Lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery are all treatment options available to relieve and improve symptoms of heart failure.

Heart failure is a serious condition, but when symptoms are managed and with proper treatment, patients with heart failure can live a normal, active life.


Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a condition that can lead to serious health problems, such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems.

Most people with high blood pressure are unaware because symptoms are rarely noticeable. That is why it is important to visit your doctor regularly for a general medical check-up. When blood pressure reaches life-threatening levels, the following symptoms may be noticeable:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pounding in the head or chest
  • Sharp chest pains

Elevated blood pressure may be inherited or related to other factors including:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Diet high in saturated fat and/or sodium
  • Age
  • Excessive drinking
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being male
  • High stress

You can help manage your hypertension and lower your risk of stroke by making lifestyle changes or with medication from your doctor. When detected and treated early, the prognosis is very good.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted. When the brain lacks sufficient blood flow for a long enough period of time, brain damage or even death can result. Immediate medical attention and early treatment are critical to help minimize damage to brain tissue and improve the outcome.

There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke is the most common type, occurring when a blood clot blocks arteries and cuts off blood flow. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in part of the brain becomes weak and bursts open, causing blood to leak into the brain.

At the first sign of stroke, patients should seek medical care immediately. Symptoms of a stroke vary, but typically occur suddenly and include:

  • Weakness, tingling or numbness in a limb
  • Partial loss of vision
  • Inability to move a limb
  • Double vision, vertigo or loss of balance
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Memory loss
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness
  • Uncontrollable eye movements

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for strokes. Working closely with your doctor and making lifestyle changes can help decrease the risk of stroke including:

  • Weight loss
  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercise
  • Cholesterol and blood pressure management
  • Reducing alcohol intake

To learn more about the signs and symptoms of possible heart problems, call the Gilbert, AZ office of Gilbert Cardiology today!

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