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By Don Mitchell / Sep 6, 2016

7 Signs of Heart Failure

22987_TLPBDMHS0916_7SignsHeartFailure_1024x438 A common misconception about heart failure is that the heart stops working altogether. This isn’t the case.

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle weakens and can’t pump enough blood to supply the body’s cells with oxygen, causing fatigue, shortness of breath, and even coughing.

The American Heart Association® (AHA) says one in five people in the U.S. will develop heart failure. And while serious, many with the condition lead full, enjoyable lives with help from medications and healthy changes in lifestyle.

The warning signs of heart failure are listed below. By themselves, any one of these signs may not be cause for alarm, according to the AHA. But people who experience more than one symptom should see their doctor to get their heart evaluated: 

Shortness of breath

This includes breathlessness during activity — which is most common — at rest, or while sleeping. Lying flat can make it difficult to breathe, causing those affected to prop up the upper body while in bed.

  • Why it happens: The heart can’t keep pace with the supply, causing blood to “back up” in the pulmonary veins and leakage into the lungs. 

Chronic wheezing

Persistent coughing that can produce white, or pink blood-tinged, mucus.

  •  Why it happens: Same reason as above; fluid builds in the lungs.

Fluid buildup (edema)

Some people with heart failure experience swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen. They may also gain weight. It’s common for them to notice their shoes fitting tightly.

  • Why it happens: Blood returning to the heart through veins backs up due to a slower outflow, resulting in fluid buildup in the tissues. This buildup is also caused by the kidneys, which can’t dispose sodium and water as efficiently. 

Fatigue or feeling lightheaded

Low energy and having difficulty with daily activities.

  • Why it happens: Because the heart can’t pump enough to meet the needs of the entire body, blood is diverted away from less vital organs, especially the muscles and limbs, and is sent to the brain and heart.   

 Nausea or lack of appetite

Constantly feeling full or sick to the stomach.

  • Why it happens: The digestive system doesn’t operate as efficiently because it receives less blood.

Confusion or impaired thinking

Memory loss and feelings of disorientation. A caregiver, relative, or close friend might notice a problem first.

  • Why it happens: Sodium levels in the blood can change, causing confusion in some of those affected.  

 High heart rate

Heart palpitations that feel as though the heart is racing or throbbing.

  • Why it happens: The heart beats faster to counter the loss in pumping capacity.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association’s “Warning Signs of Heart Failure” web page.