Symptoms of coronary heart disease 

The most common symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) are chest pain (angina) and a heart attack.

You can also experience other symptoms, such as heart palpitations and unusual breathlessness. In some cases, people may not have any symptoms before they are diagnosed.

Angina

If your coronary arteries become partially blocked, it can cause chest pain (angina).

This can be a mild, uncomfortable feeling similar to indigestion. However, a severe angina attack can cause a painful feeling of heaviness or tightness, usually in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

Angina is often triggered by physical activity or stressful situations. Symptoms usually pass in less than 10 minutes, and can be relieved by resting or using a nitrate tablet or spray.

Heart attacks

If your arteries become completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Heart attacks can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle and, if not treated straight away, can be fatal.

If you think you are having a heart attack, dial 999 for immediate medical assistance.

Although symptoms can vary, the discomfort or pain of a heart attack is usually similar to that of angina, but it is often more severe.

During a heart attack, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms, jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • breathlessness

The symptoms of a heart attack can also be similar to indigestion. For example, they may include a feeling of heaviness in your chest, a stomach ache or heartburn.

A heart attack can happen at any time, including while you are resting. If heart pains last longer than 15 minutes, it may be the start of a heart attack.

Unlike angina, the symptoms of a heart attack are not usually relieved using a nitrate tablet or spray.

In some cases, you may have a heart attack without any symptoms, called a silent myocardial infarction. This is more common in people with diabetes.

Heart failure

Heart failure can also occur in people with CHD when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body. This can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, making it increasingly difficult to breathe.

Heart failure can happen suddenly (acute heart failure) or gradually over time (chronic heart failure).

Want to know more?

Heart attack

A consultant cardiologist explains what a heart attack is, the symptoms, surgical treatments and why it's important for coronary heart disease patients to reduce their risk factors.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 20/10/2015

Do you know what to do if someone has a heart attack?

When a heart attack happens, a bystander – often a relative with no medical expertise – is likely to be the first on the scene.

But less than 1% of the population have attended an emergency life support course.

Heartstart (funded by the British Heart Foundation), British Red Cross and St John Ambulance can teach you how to help someone having a heart attack.

Page last reviewed: 26/09/2014

Next review due: 26/09/2016