Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


The most common symptoms of heart disease are chest pain, dyspnea, palpitations, syncope or presyncope, and fatigue. None is specific, and interpretation depends on the entire clinical picture and, in many cases, diagnostic testing.

Chest Pain or Discomfort

In addition to cardiac chest pain, other forms of discomfort are common. Chest pain can occur as a result of pulmonary, pleural, musculoskeletal disease, esophageal or other GI disorders, or anxiety states. Myocardial ischemia is a frequent cause of cardiac chest pain and is usually described as dull, aching, or as a sensation of "pressure," "tightness," "squeezing," or "gas," rather than as sharp or spasmodic. Ischemic symptoms frequently are first noted only with exercise or cardiac stress from cold exposure, meals, or a combination of factors and often resolve quickly once the inciting event is over. Progressive symptoms or symptoms at rest may represent unstable angina due to coronary plaque rupture and thrombosis. Protracted episodes often represent MI, although one-third of patients with acute MI do not have chest pain. When present, the pain is commonly accompanied by a sense of anxiety or uneasiness. The location is usually retrosternal or left precordial. Because there are not the appropriate sensory nerves on the heart, the CNS interpretation of pain location often results in pressure or "heaviness" being referred to the throat, lower jaw, shoulders, inner arms, upper abdomen, or back. Ischemic pain is not related to position or respiration and is usually not elicited by chest palpations. One clue that the pain may be ischemic is the presence of other symptoms associated with the pain, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, a feeling of impending doom, and vagal symptoms, such as nausea and diaphoresis. Of importance, depression may mask symptoms, especially in women. When compared to men, women do appear to have a higher frequency of atypical angina (even with significant coronary disease) and, in some cases, evidence for microvascular coronary disease even when epicardial coronary disease is not evident at cardiac catheterization. A HEART score (History, ECG, Age, Risk factors and Troponin) has been validated to help distinguish coronary chest pain in the emergency department from noncoronary causes. The European Heart Journal outlines a variety of practical algorithms to help both eliminate missed diagnoses of an acute coronary syndrome and avoid hospitalization of low-risk patients. The combination of both high sensitivity troponin and the HEART score has been shown to further improve the sensitivity and specificity of diagnosing an acute coronary syndrome.

Hypertrophy of either ventricle, such as in aortic stenosis or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), may result in subendocardial underperfusion during stress and may also give rise to atypical, or occasionally typical, ischemic pain. Myocarditis, pulmonary hypertension, and mitral valve prolapse are also associated with chest pain atypical for angina pectoris. Pericarditis may produce pain that is greater supine than upright, and may increase with respiration, or swallowing. Pleuritic chest pain ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.