Some people who have coronary artery disease have no symptoms. This is called silent coronary artery disease. But for many people, symptoms do occur and become more severe as plaque buildup continues to narrow the coronary arteries. Captain Miller, can you tell us about some of these symptoms?
Absolutely, Dr. Mansfield. A common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina, which is chest pain or discomfort that occurs if an area of the heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood. Typically, angina pain lasts for only a few minutes.
Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in the chest. It may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. In some cases, angina pain may even feel like indigestion. Often, this pain is worse during physical activity and goes away with rest. For some people, emotional stress triggers the pain.
Another symptom of coronary artery disease is shortness of breath. This is common when coronary artery disease causes heart failure. When a person has heart failure, their heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Fluid builds up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Fluid can also build up in the rest of the body, causing swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and veins in the neck.
People with silent coronary artery disease may not know they have the condition until they present with symptoms of other heart problems, such as heart attack or arrhythmia.
The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Unlike angina, however, the pain associated with a heart attack often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. Some people experience an arrhythmia as a fluttering feeling in the chest, called palpitations. Others may notice their heart skipping beats or beating too fast. In serious cases, an arrhythmia can cause the heart to suddenly stop beating, a condition called sudden cardiac arrest. If sudden cardiac arrest is not treated within minutes, it usually causes death.