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While a series of other symptoms could make an appearance if you have coronary artery disease, chest pain (or angina) is the most distinguishable and clearest one of them all.

Coronary artery disease can be a very tricky medical problem because it doesn’t usually show any signs until it’s in a more advanced stage. Some people experience a series of mild symptoms that are easily confused with those of other medical conditions, meaning that they might not even suspect the dizziness or fatigue are actually coronary artery disease symptoms.


While a series of symptoms can make an appearance if you have coronary artery disease, chest pain (or angina) is the most distinguishable and clearest one of them all. Angina pain is very similar to the sensation you have when you’re having a heart attack, so it’s important to know how to tell these two apart.

Heart attack pain usually lasts longer than 15 minutes and the pain changes in quality. Also, if your pain is angina, the nitroglycerin tablet prescribed by your doctor should trigger a response. People feel angina in very different ways. It can range from aching to burning, but some people feel like something is squeezing their heart. The pain may also spread to other body parts, such as the arms, shoulders, back, or even the jaw.

Since angina is the most common and unmistakable symptom of coronary artery disease, it’s important to understand as much about it as possible:

  • The cause of angina is ischemia, a blood flow interruption to the heart. When your heart doesn’t receive enough blood, it is also deprived of oxygen, meaning that your heart starts to function abnormally. This usually happens when you’re performing more intense physical exercise, as this is something that requires extra oxygen. Another situation where your heart is deprived of oxygen is when you’re stressed out or are exposed to cold temperatures.
  • Coronary artery disease-induced ischemia doesn’t always show signs. There is such a thing as “silent ischemia”, when the symptoms occur only when the person is on the verge of having a big cardiac problem, such as a heart attack.
  • Stable angina is one way to classify this chest pain, and it’s characterized by a predictable pattern. It usually occurs when you are under obvious stress and your body needs the extra oxygen, so your heart has to pump harder to get it. Normally, it disappears after resting.
  • Chronic stable angina is used to describe frequent angina episodes that are predictable over a longer period of time.
  • Unstable angina is another classification for this type of chest pain, and it can occur even when you’re resting. Because it occurs without predictability, unstable angina can wake people up from their sleep.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is the body’s way of telling you that there is not enough blood in the coronary vessels. When this happens, you may feel like you can’t breathe, or can’t get enough air when doing so.

Emotional problems, anxiety, depression, anger, and physical exertion increase the risk of this symptom. For some people, this shortness of breath (also known as dyspnea) is masked by low energy levels. Fatigue is another sign of coronary artery disease. People who have it report they don’t have enough energy.


If you’re frequently feeling dizzy or lightheaded, it could be a sign of underlying artery disease. In fact, people who have advanced stages of coronary artery disease often describe having this symptom. It can occur suddenly, but physical exertion often triggers it.

Heart attacks

When the plaques formed due to fatty deposits rupture, they are likely to cause blood clot formation. These blood clots act like a plug that interrupts the blood supply to the heart. When this happens, you are on the verge of having a heart attack.

People who suffer from heart attacks are very likely to have coronary artery disease, with all the symptoms that normally accompany this medical problem. Heart attacks will manifest themselves through major pressure in the chest area, pain in the arms and shoulders, and also shortness of breath. Some people who are experiencing a heart attack will also sweat heavily.

While men usually have the aforementioned symptoms, women with heart attacks can show some other signs, such as pain in the neck or jaw.

If you or someone nearby is having a heart attack, the first thing to do is to call the emergency service. Avoid driving yourself to the hospital, because you’re likely to cause an accident due to the unpredictability of the symptoms and how they can impair your mobility and affect your judgment. Instead, have someone else drive you or call a cab.

Coronary artery disease complications

When coronary artery disease is left untreated, it causes a series of health complications over time. The arteries become severely damaged, impairing blood flow and preventing the heart from receiving blood and oxygen. The most common complications for untreated coronary artery disease are:

  • Frequent heart attacks, because the blood doesn’t flow to the myocardium as much as it should.
  • Arrhythmia, a medical condition caused by irregular heartbeats. It normally occurs after a heart attack, because the heart’s pacemaker is affected.
  • Stroke, because having the coronary arteries blocked by a blood clot increases the odds of it traveling to the brain and interrupting its blood supply as well. Depending on which part of the brain is deprived of blood, you can have different symptoms, ranging from sensory loss to difficulty in speaking.
  • Heart failure, as heart attacks will weaken the muscles of the heart. In time, a weak heart will have more difficulty in doing its job, therefore you’re more likely to experience fatigue and swelling of the legs.


Coronary artery disease treatment almost always involves making lifestyle changes to get rid of the habits that caused the fatty deposits in the first place. However, doctors can turn to a series of drugs or, if need be, to medical procedures that will restore blood flow to the damaged artery.

For the best results, it’s important to avoid habits like smoking, over-drinking, eating fatty and unhealthy foods, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and stressing over every little thing.

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