Symptoms of Heart Disease

Heart diseases are often insidious illnesses. Symptoms range from mild malaise and bouts of sweating to chest pain. In order to respond effectively in cases of heart disease, it is important to recognise the symptoms and to respond appropriately.


Where do the symptoms of heart disease come from?

It is possible that your heart has already been affected before you even notice the first signs such as shortness of breath.

For example, if part of the heart is damaged due to reduced blood flow, the pumping power is reduced. This leads to insufficient amounts of blood being pumped, which then backs up in the vessels leading to the heart. Due to this congestion and the resulting increased pressure on the vessel walls, fluid leaks out and collects in the surrounding tissues.

First Symptoms of Heart Disease

If the right side of the heart is affected, i.e. in the case of right-sided heart failure, water may collect in the abdominal organs or in the limbs. Water retention in the arms and legs is particularly noticeable.

In the case of left-sided heart failure, water retention in the lungs can occur for the same reason, which can result in shortness of breath. Depending on how much the heart’s performance has been impacted, this fluid retention can form over hours or days and weeks. If the fluid retention forms slowly, it is not life-threatening but needs to be investigated to treat the underlying heart failure. In addition, patients with these symptoms often feel weak and lose their stamina for physical activity.

However, there are other symptoms that occur more quickly, in the form of sudden-onset attacks. These need to be treated immediately.

The first symptoms of mild heart damage can include:

  • Malaise
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

These symptoms do not occur at all times, but rather occur more frequently as ‘attacks’ when the heart has to work harder. These can occur due to physical stress, such as climbing stairs – but also with emotional stress. At this stage, the heart has only suffered a little damage. Often, these symptoms already prevent patients from participating in their usual daily activities. The consequence: patients take things easy more often, and are increasingly restricted in their activities.

Man sitting on bench putting his hand on his chest and woman standing next to him and looking worried.

Chest Pain

Severe heart damage is often accompanied by chest pain and the symptoms even occur on light exertion. One in ten patients who see their GP for chest pain suffer from coronary arteries narrowed by deposits of fat and calcium, i.e. coronary heart disease. A dramatic consequence of this condition when left untreated is a heart attack.

Man in suit putting his hand on his chest in pain

Angina Pectoris

Chest pain due to heart disease may radiate to the neck, jaw, arms or upper abdomen. The pain is often accompanied by a sensation of the chest being constricted. This unpleasant symptom is called angina pectoris after the Latin term for tightness in the chest. In particularly severe attacks, patients also experience shortness of breath and the symptoms persist even after several minutes have passed.

Heart Disease: How can I recognise an emergency?

In case of severe symptoms, or if symptoms do not disappear after several minutes of rest, you should immediately see a doctor or alert paramedics. A heart attack could be occurring.
Lack of treatment can lead to serious consequences, such as cardiac arrhythmias and even the death of parts of the heart muscle. This type of damage is not curable, even when applying the best standards of care currently available. Doctors call the hour after the onset of a heart attack the "golden hour" because damage to the heart muscle is not yet permanent during this short time.

Reacting appropriately in an emergency

Your general practitioner can inform you about what to do in an emergency and give you a rescue medication to take home with you if you are a high-risk patient.
Your relatives and friends should also learn how to respond. This ensures that you will be taken care of quickly in case of an emergency. A heart attack often manifests as chest pain that can radiate to other parts of the body, cold sweats and possibly even shortness of breath. It should be noted that female patients may still be having a heart attack even if they are not experiencing chest pain.