Doctors can usually diagnose cardiovascular disease (CVD) by observing symptoms and risk factors from the medical history and signs from the physical exam. Certain symptoms tend to be more or less common in certain conditions. For example, shortness of breath often characterizes heart failure, whereas angina is often a sign of coronary artery disease (CAD). Keep in mind that not all signs and symptoms are present for all types of CVD. Some are present only in a few conditions, others are in several different conditions, and all can be signs of many things other than CVD. And sometimes, there are no symptoms at all until the disease reaches a late stage.
Major symptoms that point to cardiovascular conditions include:
Angina—The specific type and location of chest pain can tell a lot about its cause. For example, a tightness or squeezing sensation in the chest often indicates
heart attack. On the other hand, chest pain that gets worse when lying down and doesn’t worsen with exertion is more likely to be a symptom of
pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.
Shortness of breath—Fluid backing up into the lungs from a failing heart leads to shortness of breath, which is often made worse by laying down. While shortness of breath is common to many types of cardiovascular conditions, it is no by no means limited to CVD. The symptom is common, for example, with lung diseases.
Fatigue—Fatigue is another common symptom of CVD, presumably caused by insufficient blood flow to the muscles along with the decreased availability of oxygen due to fluid in the lungs.
Palpitations—A heart that is beating at an unusual force, rate, or rhythm, could just be an indication of anxiety or too much caffeine. However, abnormal heartbeats—especially if they occur in conjunction with other symptoms like fatigue or fainting—could hint at a more serious underlying condition, such as an
Lightheadedness and Fainting—Insufficient blood flow to the brain can cause lightheadedness or fainting. This may be due to abnormal heart rate or rhythm, or to insufficient cardiac output. Of course, fainting may have many other causes ranging from anxiety to seizure disorders, and in most individuals is not due to CVD.
Signs suggestive of cardiovascular conditions include:
Pale, clammy appearance
Cyanosis (blue tinge to the skin), particularly in the extremities
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