Symptoms of Ischemic Heart Disease: An overview

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Ischemic Heart Disease

Ischemic heart disease is a disease caused by ischemia (reduced blood supply) to the heart muscle. The coronary arteries are the major arteries supplying blood to the heart.

The cause is usually due to atherosclerosis and the following are some risk factors:

  1. Smoking.
  2. Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol levels).
  3. Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  4. Diabetes.

It is more common in men and also in persons who have close relatives with ischemic heart disease.

The various signs and symptoms of ischemic heart disease are discussed in the following sections.

1. Angina Pectoris: Chest Pain

This is characterized by burning, squeezing, heaviness or tightness in the chest that may extend to the left arm, neck, jaw or the shoulder blade.

The characteristics of angina are:

  1. It is usually aggravated by physical activity.
  2. It lasts only for a few minutes.
  3. It is relieved by rest.
  4. Emotional stress can also cause or worsen angina.

Angina is an early and important symptom of ischemic heart disease which should not be neglected. It should be recognized early so that measures can be taken to prevent a heart attack.

2. Exertional Dyspnea: Shortness of Breath

Difficulty in breathing due to exertion is also one of the common symptoms of ischemic heart disease. The major difference between exertional dyspnea in healthy persons and those who have ischemic heart disease is the degree of activity required to induce the symptom. Lesser than what is normal from activity for a particular age causes dyspnea in patients with ischemic heart disease. In a healthy person, exertional dyspnea normally starts with a higher degree of exertion and gradually the tolerance level decreases.

3. Palpitations

Palpitations are abnormal heartbeats. The person may have unpleasant sensations of the heart beating forcefully, irregularly or rapidly. This can be dangerous and should be dealt with immediately.

4. Fatigue and Weakness

This is accompanied by a feeling of heaviness in the limbs. Weakness and fatigue occurs due to reduced blood supply to the skeletal muscles because of the decrease in cardiac output.

5. Lightheadedness and Fainting

Lightheadedness is the feeling that one is about to faint. Fainting is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness. Lightheadedness and fainting usually occur when the blood supply to the brain is reduced as a result of rhythm abnormalities of the heart or as a result of inefficient pumping of blood by the heart.

6. Swelling, Numbness and Changes in Skin Color

Swelling can occur in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen as a result of fluid collection due to inefficient pumping of the heart.

Decreased blood supply to any part of the body can cause numbness. This can also pale or bluish discoloration of the skin because of decreased oxygenation of the skin and other tissues.


No symptom alone is indicative specifically of ischemic heart disease. A group of such signs and symptoms of ischemic heart disease guides the doctor so that relevant investigations can be done to diagnose the condition correctly.


  1. Ischemic Heart Disease by Falk Erling, Shah Prediman, De Feyter Pim, 2007.
  2. Ischemic Heart Disease: Clinical and Pathophysiological Aspects by Willerson James, Hillis David, Buja Maximilian, 1982.