Symptoms of Heart Failure
Shortness of breath
Swollen ankles and legs
Sudden weight gain
Tiredness or loss of energy
Loss or change in appetite
Fluid build up in the lungs, causing a night time cough
Certain factors may cause these symptoms to worsen, such as eating high-salt foods, drinking excessive fluids, taking medications that cause salt and water to be retained or having fast heart rhythms, a cold or the flu.
Heart failure symptoms can vary widely from person to person, depending on the type of heart failure you have. Therefore, you may experience all of the symptoms described here or just a few of them.
In the early stage, you are unlikely to notice any symptoms, but if your heart failure progresses you are likely to experience symptoms,which become more severe.
The main symptoms of heart failure are caused by fluid accumulation or congestion. and poor blood flow to the body. This section will explain these symptoms and provide tips on how to improve them.
Symptoms caused by fluid accumulation or congestion include:
Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath is caused by fluid accumulation and congestion in the lungs. Wet lungs cannot exchange oxygen easily. In the early stages of heart failure you will probably only experience breathlessness after exercise, but if your heart failure progresses you may feel breathless when resting as well.
You may feel more breathless lying down because the fluid in your lungs moves with gravity, making more of your lungs wet (think of liquid in a bottle upright and then lying on its side).
If you do feel breathless at night or when lying down, try supporting yourself with pillows so you are lying in a more upright position. If you consistently feel breathless at night contact your doctor or nurse.
In addition to breathlessness, some people with heart failure develop a cough or wheezing. This is usually due to fluid accumulation in the lungs, but can also be caused by lung conditions (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma).
If you have a cough or are wheezy, you should find that, as with breathlessness, supporting yourself with pillows or sitting up makes you more comfortable.
It is very common for people with heart failure to experience rapid changes in their weight. If your heart failure is causing fluid accumulation , you will gain weight. However, if your body loses this fluid (for example, after appropriate treatment), you will lose weight.
It is important to weigh yourself frequently and to tell your doctor or nurse if you notice your weight increase by more than 2 kilos (3 pounds) in 3 days. To make this easier we have provided a chart that you can download, print and use to track your weight and any changesWhen you notice weight gain on your chart, look at the pattern of weight gain and think about your lifestyle recently. Weight gain due to fluid retention is different to weight gain due to a high calorie diet. If you are unsure as to why you have gained weight, contact your doctor or nurse.
Fluid accumulation can cause swelling (oedema), particularly in the ankles. Sometimes the swelling can extend into your legs, thighs and abdomen.
Your doctor or nurse may recommend limiting how much you drink every day, in order to limit the amount of fluid that can build up in your body. He/she may also recommend that you take an extra diuretic when required. Click here for more tips on controlling your fluid intake.
Always consult your doctor or nurse before making any changes to your fluid intake.
Symptoms related to the reduced blood flow to parts of the body include:
Heart failure reduces your heart's pumping ability so less blood reaches your muscles. This lack of oxygen and nourishment cause your muscles to get tired much more quickly. Some patients find the tiredness overwhelming.
You may be able to reduce how tired you get by exercising. Moderate exercise and exercise training may help improve your symptoms. In contrast to what many people believe, exercise is considered beneficial in patients with heart failure. Exercise also reduces stress and boosts your energy levels. Click here to learn more about when to exercise and what to do.
You may also find techniques to conserve energy will help you to understand what you can do and ensure you have sufficient energy to do the things you really enjo
Heart failure causes reduced blood flow to the rest of your body. If the flow to your brain is lower than usual or your blood pressure is low, you may feel dizzy.
Dizziness in people with heart failure is often caused by their medicines. However, irregular heart beats , which often happen with heart failure, or a temporary drop in blood pressure cuased by rising from a sitting or lying position (postural hypotension) can also cause dizziness.
You should discuss any dizziness with your doctor or nurse to identify its cause
Rapid heart rate
When you have heart failure, your heart tries to compensate for its lack of pumping power by beating faster (tachycardia) in order to keep up the same flow of blood around your body.
This increased heart rate may sometimes be irregular and cause palpitations which feel like your heart is racing or throbbing. You should discuss palpitations with your doctor or nurse.
Other symptoms of heart failure include:
Loss of appetite
Fluid accumulation caused by heart failure can affect any part of your body. Some people accumulate fluid in their liver and digestive system. If this happens, it can make you feel full and/or bloated.
Therefore, you may feel less hungry. You can try eating smaller meals more frequently to stop you from feeling too full or bloated.
Need to urinate at night
When you lie down in bed at night, the fluid that has built up in your legs during the day can move back into your bloodstream and is taken to your kidneys to be eliminated as waste urine.
Going to the toilet before going to bed and limiting the amount you drink in the evening may help reduce the number of times you have to get up at night to urinate. Click here to learn more about controlling your fluid intake.
Taking your diuretic in the morning may also help
In addition to the physical symptoms of heart failure, some people can be affected by the seriousness and severity of heart failure and may experience emotional symptoms, such as
Depression and anxiety
It is very common for people with heart failure to feel depressed, uneasy or anxious.
Heart failure is a serious condition and the symptoms can leave you worn out and exasperated. In addition, breathlessness can feel constricting and make you feel uneasy and anxious. Symptoms may prevent you from participating in normal social activities, which can limit your social network. You may also depend on help from family and friends, which may make you feel that you are a burden on them.
It is important to have a positive attitude and share your concerns with your nurse or doctor. Keep taking any medicines prescribed by your doctor as these will help to ease your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. While there is usually no cure for heart failure, there is a lot that you and your doctor can do to improve the quality of your life.
However many of these symptoms you experience, it is important to monitor them on a daily basis. If you notice something new, or a symptom suddenly gets worse, you should tell your doctor or nurse without delay.