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A Silent Heart Disease Symptom You Should Never Ignore

In this video, cardiologists talk about a common sign of heart disease that isn’t chest pain.

Mera Goodman, MD
Written by Brittany Doohan | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD
Updated on February 11, 2021

If you were asked to paint a picture of the classic heart disease symptom, you’d probably show a person in distress, clenching their chest. And you’d be right. Tightness or pressure in the chest is the most common well-known sign of coronary heart disease—but it’s not the whole picture.

When heart attack patients come in to see Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, he says they’re often surprised that they didn’t feel any chest pain. “You really have to dig deeper and go beyond the chest pain notion. That’s one deceptive part of coronary artery disease that we’re really finding now, and that we’re catching more of. Going beyond the scope of the classic ‘I just have chest pain or pressure,’” says Dr. Bhusri.

One Heart Disease Symptom That Most People Miss

So besides chest pain, what other symptoms should you be looking out for? “One symptom that is commonly missed that  people should be aware of is a sudden decline in your exercise tolerance,” says Dr. Bhusri. For instance, if walking up a hill or stairs becomes more troublesome, if you’re noticing shortness of breath during physical activity, or if activities of daily living become more of a battle for you, that could be early signs of worsening coronary artery disease, says Dr. Bhusri.

Other sneaky symptoms might include pain or pressure in the neck, arms, jaw, shoulder, or back, or pain that mimics indigestion. (Learn about other tell-tale signs of coronary heart disease here.)

“If you notice your exercise endurance has been decreasing over a period of a few weeks, instead of waiting for your heart attack to wake you up from your sleep, you should go to the doctor when you begin to have these symptoms,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director at NYU Langone Health in New York.

The earlier you get tested, the earlier your doctor can catch a clogged artery and help prevent a heart attack. Also critical: Make these lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease.

Additional Medical Contributors (2)
  • Nieca Goldberg, MDDr. Goldberg is a cardiologist and medical director of the NYU Langone Health Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health.
    • Satjit Bhusri, MD, FACCDr. Bhusri is an attending cardiologist at the Lenox Hill Heart & Vascular Institute and an assistant professor of cardiology at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.


      Coronary Heart Disease. National Blood, Lung, and Heart Institute. (Accessed on February 10, 2021 at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease)

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