Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is the result of the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s requirements. The condition is considered the leading cause of death in the nation, affecting about 5 million people of all ages.

Whether you are someone who has been diagnosed with heart failure or at risk for developing it, paying attention to symptoms will help you get the treatment you need. Here is a look at the most common symptoms of heart failure.

Shortness of Breath

A common sign of congestive heart failure is dyspnea, also known as shortness of breath. Breathlessness can occur during activity, sleep, or when resting. Difficulty breathing is due to the blood backing up in the pulmonary veins—these are vessels that are responsible for blood flow from the lungs to the heart. The heart is unable to keep up with the blood supply, causing fluid to enter the lungs and affect breathing.


A frequent cough that may sound like wheezing can occur due to the fluid build-up in the lungs. You may cough up white or pink (blood-tinged) mucus.

Fluid Retention

Medically referred to as edema, swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen or weight gain is seen in those with congestive heart failure. Swelling is caused by a buildup of fluid in the tissues. There are two potential causes for an increase of fluid in the tissues: blood flow out of the heart decreases, causing blood returning to the heart through the veins to back up, or kidneys are not able to get rid of sodium and water, leading to fluid retention.


A constant feeling of tiredness or fatigue is common in patients with congestive heart failure. Exhaustion is the result of the heart’s inability to pump a sufficient amount of blood to meet the body’s needs. The body reacts by moving blood away from non-vital organs (like muscles in the limbs) and sends the blood to the brain and heart instead.

Loss of Appetite

Congestive heart failure can change your appetite. You may feel full and eat less or feel sick to your stomach and experience nausea. Problems with digestion occur because the digestive system does not receive the adequate amount of blood it needs to function properly.


Cognitive difficulties, such as impaired thinking, memory loss, or disorientation can occur. Confusion is the result of changes to the blood. For example, a change in sodium levels can cause confusion.

Heart Palpitations

You may experience heart palpitations, which are an increased heart rate that can make you feel like your heart is racing.  This is because of the loss in the heart’s pumping capacity. To compensate for the loss of power, the heart will beat faster.

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Posted on May 5, 2023