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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

Some people have no symptoms of coronary artery disease (CAD), which is why it's sometimes called a "silent" disease. A person may not know they have this condition until they develop an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or heart failure, or they have a heart attack. That's why it is important to pay attention to any initial warning signals. For instance, you should talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms that may be associated with CAD.

These may include:

  • Angina or chest pain, which feels like a pressure or squeezing in your chest. You may feel numbness, a burning sensation, fullness, or tightness in the chest
  • A steady pain in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath, which can happen at rest or during exercise
  • Sweating or a "cold sweat"
  • A feeling of fullness, indigestion, or heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or weakness

If you have symptoms of or risk factors for CAD, you can learn about how your doctor may diagnose this condition at Diagnosing CAD.

Women's symptoms may be different

You may think of heart disease as something that affects mainly men, but more women than men die of heart disease every year. Women can develop heart disease at any age, but they're particularly at risk after menopause, when levels of estrogen–a hormone that's believed to offer some heart protection—falls off.

In women, CAD may have different symptoms than it does in men. In some cases, a woman may not recognize her symptoms and she may be misdiagnosed because she's less likely to have chest pain, the most common symptom in men. When women have CAD, their symptoms can include:

  • A hot or burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Discomfort in the neck, upper back, or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Unusual fatigue

If you're a woman, it's important to know the symptoms of heart disease that you may have, and seek help when it's necessary. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. But as with men, getting promptly diagnosed and treated can make all the difference.

Not all people experiencing the symptoms mentioned on this page have CAD. However, if you have these symptoms, talk to your doctor for further evaluation.

Learn more about CAD and the possible complications associated with it.

Did you       

Stress tests are an important tool to help doctors diagnose women suspected of having CAD. Find out about the different types of stress tests.