What are Heart Failure Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Heart failure symptoms include respiratory distress, fatigue, water retention, and sleeping problems. Patients may experience a variety of symptoms and they often onset slowly. When a patient has such symptoms, a doctor can conduct an evaluation to check for a definitive diagnosis and start providing treatments. These include dietary adjustments, medications, and surgical procedures in some cases. The earlier a doctor identifies heart failure, the more treatment options will be available.

Patients in heart failure develop a slew of symptoms related to decreased heart function. Often, the early warning signs are fatigue and weakness. People may feel dizzy and disoriented while standing upright and can develop confusion due to changes in blood chemistry and poor circulation to the brain. The onset of these symptoms may be so gradual that family members and friends notice before the patient does. People should be especially alert to heart failure symptoms in older adults, as they are more at risk.

Heart failure symptoms often involve the lungs. Patients can have difficulty breathing, especially when they lie flat. Typically, they cough and wheeze more than normal and may produce more sputum. The heart beat can also change, becoming more labored during exercise than normal, and some patients have to stop exercising altogether because the fatigue and difficulty breathing become overwhelming. Patients may notice at first that they are less interested in exercise, unconsciously avoiding it because of the pain and fatigue associated with trying to exercise while in heart failure.


The water retention can cause heart failure symptoms like swelling of the extremities, increased urination, and buildups of fluid in the abdomen. Some patients have nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting because of pressure in the abdomen, and may have a lack of appetite. Fluid accumulation can cause weight gain, even as patients are not eating well, and the abdomen will develop a distended, bloated appearance. Lying facedown may become extremely uncomfortable, and patients can have trouble sleeping flat on their backs.

Early heart failure symptoms may be vague; many conditions, for example, cause fatigue. As the condition progresses and more symptoms appear, they will narrow down the options in terms of a diagnosis, making it easier for a doctor spot the problem. Patients who seek out treatment early may be able to slow or stop damage to the heart and other organs, extending their lives and improving quality of life. Advanced heart failure is much more difficult to treat and may require hospitalization to keep the patient stable.



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