What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Problems Related to CAD (including Heart Attack)?

Some people who have CAD have no signs or symptoms—a condition called silent CAD. The disease might not be diagnosed until a person has signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure or an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle is cut off. This can happen if an area of plaque in a coronary artery breaks open. Blood cell fragments called platelets then stick to the site of the injury and may clump together to form blood clots. If a clot becomes large enough, it can partially or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery.

If the blockage isn’t treated quickly, the portion of heart muscle fed by the artery begins to die. Healthy heart tissue is replaced with scar tissue. This heart damage may not be obvious or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems.

The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. The feeling can be mild or severe; heart attack pain sometimes feels like indigestion or heartburn.

The symptoms of angina can be similar to the symptoms of a heart attack. Angina pain usually lasts for only a few minutes and goes away with rest. Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or changes from its usual pattern (for example, it occurs more often or while you’re resting) might be a sign of a heart attack. If you don’t know whether your chest pain is angina or a heart attack, call 911.

Important: All chest pain should be checked by a doctor.

Other common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort.
  • Nausea, vomiting, light-headedness, fainting or breaking out in a cold sweat.
  • Sleep problems, feeling tired or lack of energy.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Feeling tired
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach and veins in the neck.

All of these symptoms are the result of fluid buildup in your body. When symptoms start, you may feel tired and short of breath after routine physical effort, like climbing stairs.


An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. When you have an arrhythmia, you may notice that your heart is skipping beats or beating too fast.

Some people describe arrhythmias as a fluttering feeling in the chest. These feelings are called palpitations.

Some arrhythmias can cause your heart to suddenly stop beating. This condition is called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA usually causes death if it’s not treated within minutes.