Coronary heart disease - Symptoms 

Symptoms of coronary heart disease 

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.

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.


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).

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Page last reviewed: 26/09/2014

Next review due: 26/09/2016


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

helenrosi said on 22 July 2013

I'm 41 years old lady Since June 22 in the evening time suddenly my blood pressure went up and my heart fast beating I went to ER but they didnot good care to give me good medication and my head was getting heaviness too but several time I went to Emergency but about the team group I was statsified they gave me wrong diganostic actaully we have heart attack to my parents and strok too .

from my doctors it was not good care and I like to share my story that totally I'm not happy still my symptom to me and just they gave me anxity medication to relax my nerve
just I involved with my symptoms

I need to help !!

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Johnny W said on 23 August 2012

Our experience is that not all symptoms are the same and it all depends on the person.
Best is to adjust lifetyle as soon as possible and prevent to let thing get out of hand.
Ask help early and also send other people with symptoms to right information or doctor.

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syrasen said on 12 October 2010

The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina. Angina is also known as chest pain. It is also described as chest discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness, or squeezing. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, back or jaw.

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festering said on 22 April 2010

I.m on holiday at the moment in Spain, i had no warnings, and on good friday i began to get pain down my L/arm spreading across my chest and up to my throat the pain was increasing,i went to the local hospital driven by a friend, checking in at reception i told them i thought i was having a heart attack, my feet did,nt touch the ground i was immeadiatly taken into the emergency room, and had ECG X-Ray drips set up, the team of doctors and nurses were excelent, within halfhour i was in the intesive care, where i remained for 3 days,then transferred to a normal 2 bedded room, Monday i was informed i would be going to Almeria hospital the following day, i had an angio gram and 2 stents fitted stayed the night returned to local hospital next day, i was discharged thursday,the treatment was beyind compare, as i,m here for 6 months i have check a up in May

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mark1266 said on 21 February 2010

i have all the symptoms of having angina and im also have had syptoms of heart attack but the hospital say that i have not had heart attack but treat me for angina. I still get all the symptoms now and then but dont do anything about it. I have very strong family history of heart problems in my family. I would like to know if there is anyone else out there that has the same problem as myself or anyone can give me any advice many thanks mark aged 44

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kirstielu said on 02 August 2009

i am only 36 but have a poor diet where I binge eat and have recently been smoking again after 8 yrs of not smoking , the past few weeks I have been troubled by an aching feeling in my left arm ,its not constant but is becoming more frequent ,i went to the doctors and she didnt really do alot of investigation ,she was more anoide that I hadn been to another appointment for something else ,should I insist to get checked out with this achy arm

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nicstephens said on 19 July 2009

In Nov 2007 my mother had a massive heart attack, during which time she had a cardiac arrest and had to have CPR and electric shocks.
Her symptons were not the "classic" heart attack symptoms that the press tell us about. Hers included two to three weeks of feeling unwell, with dizzy spells and aching arms. She put this down to recovering from flu. During the actual heart attack which lasted approx 30 minutes before arrest, she was sick, had diahorrea, felt pain in her jaw, heavy arms, had chest pains but not the tightening pain that we are warned about - more a restrictive feeling, she says there was a pain she couldnt really describe but was so severe she couldnt speak. All this with a feeling of being frightened. However other people we know of that have had heart attacks report very different symptoms- not all survived.
Fortunatley after having stents inserted (and some excellent care at James Cook Hosp - Middlesbrough) she went to make a full recovery. PLEASE be aware that not all heart attacks are the same and symptoms can vary wildly. Its better to be embarrased by a false alarm than to die from a heart attack.

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