7 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Heart failure, which is sometimes called congestive heart failure, occurs when your heart lacks the strength to pump blood effectively through the body. Sluggish blood flow can trigger several heart failure complications, such as swollen feet or arrhythmias. Fortunately, medical advances make it possible to live well with heart failure—as long as you manage your lifestyle, follow your treatment plan, and stay vigilant to these complications that should never be ignored.

  • 1
    Cough that gets worse at night
    senior male Caucasian sitting in chair coughing against plain gray background

    Heart failure can allow fluid to build up in your lungs, causing you to cough frequently. If your cough worsens at night or when you lie down, however, you should seek medical care quickly. This type of cough can signal a case of pulmonary edema that requires rapid intervention. In this situation, an emergency room doctor or your cardiologist may give you medications that push the excess fluid out of your body so your lungs can function better.

  • 2
    Shortness of breath that does not go away
    Senior Caucasian woman sitting on couch with chest pain or arrhythmia

    Because heart failure can cause fluid buildup in the lungs, people with this condition commonly experience shortness of breath when performing routine tasks like walking a short distance or getting dressed. However, if you begin to experience chronic shortness of breath that doesn’t improve no matter how much you rest, you should speak to your cardiologist. Your provider may be able to adjust your medications to improve your breathing or may prescribe additional testing to determine if you need oxygen therapy.

  • 3
    Heart palpitations
    Older African American woman outside feeling chest pain or arrhythmia

    If you have been diagnosed with heart failure and start to experience “fluttery feelings” in your chest, or if you notice your pulse seems erratic, contact your cardiologist. Sometimes heart failure can induce an arrhythmia (or abnormal heartbeat), which can also make you feel dizzy or weak. Your doctor can evaluate the electrical conduction of your heart and prescribe additional medications or make recommendations about how to treat any arrhythmia caused by heart failure.

  • 4
    Increasing dizziness or fatigue
    fatigued senior man with hand on head

    Many people with heart failure feel dizzy and fatigued from time to time. You may particularly experience this upon standing, because your heart lacks the ability to quickly increase blood pressure to your brain. But if you notice you feel dizzy or fatigued more often than usual, or if the dizziness occurs even when you’re not standing, then you should contact your cardiologist. Increasing dizziness or fatigue may indicate further weakening of the heart muscle that might be treatable with different medications or dosages.

  • 5
    Weight gain
    Close-up of Caucasian man's hand adjusting weight scale

    Weighing yourself daily can be an effective strategy in managing heart failure symptoms. If you do weigh daily, be vigilant for any upward trend on the scale. Weight fluctuation from day to day is normal with heart failure, but persistent weight gain over the course of a week can signal increasing fluid retention throughout your body. Your cardiologist will want to evaluate any weight gain to determine if your medication requires an adjustment or if your condition requires other interventions.

  • 6
    Swelling in the feet, legs or abdomen
    Close-up of Caucasian woman's swollen feet and ankles

    People with heart failure often experience swelling that comes and goes in the ankles, feet or legs. However, if you develop engorged legs that stay swollen, or if you develop a “beer belly” (especially if it’s firm to the touch), then it’s time to seek medical attention. This type of chronic fluid retention can signal a decline in your heart’s ability to pump. Your cardiologist may suggest lifestyle or medication changes to help reduce fluid retention.

  • 7
    Confusion or delirium
    disoriented African American senior male with head in hands

    Heart failure can provoke an electrolyte imbalance in your body (such as retention of too much sodium), leading to episodes of confusion or delirium. You might forget how to navigate your own house, for example, or you might spin some wild tales that make no sense to your listeners. If a spouse or family member alerts you to any such episode of confusion or delirium, contact your cardiologist. These episodes may be heart-related, though they often are mistaken for a different condition, like Alzheimer’s disease.

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  1. Heart Failure. U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure
  2. Heart Failure. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/heartfailure.html
  3. Warning Signs of Heart Failure. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/WarningSignsforHeartFailure/Warning-Signs-of-H...
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
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