These Are the Symptoms of Heart Failure

Staff WriterLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:58:21 AM ET
Doctor in a white coat holding a tablet CC0/valelopardo/Pixabay

Heart failure is a medical condition that occurs when the heart doesn't pump blood as well as it should. Certain other conditions can weaken the heart and diminish its ability to operate efficiently, but treatment can sometimes stop and even reverse the damage. The Heart Failure Society of America came up with the acronym FACES to help doctors and patients spot the symptoms of heart failure quickly and begin treatment. These heart failure symptoms don't confirm a diagnosis, but they are warning signs for getting a medical evaluation.

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Fatigue

A person experiences fatigue when he or she is extremely tired all the time and has trouble doing normal activities, such as walking up the stairs and carrying groceries in from the car. In some cases, the fatigue keeps people from even doing very basic things like walk across the room or bend over to pick something up. When they attempt to perform these basic tasks, they quickly tire and become short of breath.

Fatigue is a sign of congestive heart failure that occurs because the heart is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. As a survival measure, the body diverts oxygen-rich blood from muscles and other organs to the heart and the brain.

Congestion

People experiencing heart failure often have a cough that produces white or pink phlegm. This occurs because of a buildup of fluid in the lungs. The cough is persistent and may be accompanied by wheezing. Because the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently, the pulmonary veins around the lungs start to back up. This causes fluid to leak into the lungs, leading to the coughing.

Edema

The lungs aren't the only part of the body where blood backs up. All of the veins collect excess fluid because the heart isn't pumping strongly enough to return the blood back to the heart. The swelling mostly occurs in the ankles, legs, thighs and abdomen. The kidneys are unable to dispose of sodium and water efficiently, which also leads to swelling. Another heart failure warning sign is rapid weight gain caused by the body holding on to excess fluid.

Shortness of Breath

Fluid in the lungs leads to shortness of breath not just during activity, but also while lying flat or sleeping. This happens because gravity allows the fluid in the lungs to travel up the torso. To remedy this, it may be necessary to prop the head and upper body up with pillows to breathe better at night.

Other Symptoms Associated with Heart Failure

The above five symptoms help doctors quickly identify heart failure, but they aren't the only symptoms a person may experience. Nausea and lack of appetite are common because of reduced blood flow to the digestive system interrupting the digestion process. Heart palpitations or the feeling of the heart throbbing or racing is also common because the heart is working harder to make up for its lack of efficiency. Memory loss, confusion and disorientation are common in patients experiencing heart failure, partially because changes in sodium levels in the blood make it hard to concentrate. Speaking with a doctor about these symptoms is the first step in diagnosing heart failure and getting treatment.