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Related Media: Understanding Heart Failure

Heart failure is a progressive condition, and symptoms may not appear for some time. At first, the body and heart are able to make up for decreased heart functions and there may not be any symptoms. Over time, the heart failure worsens. The decreasing heart function can make it difficult to move fluid and oxygen throughout the body which can cause:

  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity, or when lying down
  • Edema in the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Persistent cough or a wheezing cough that may be accompanied by white or blood-tinged phlegm
  • Rapid weight gain as a result of fluid accumulation
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Change in urine production, which may include an increase, decrease, or need to urinate at night
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased alertness

Swollen Feet


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Over time, heart failure can lead to other complications such as:

  • Cardiomyopathy —Structural changes in the heart muscle caused by excess load on the heart.
  • Heart arrhythmias — Irregular heartbeats make it harder to keep chronic heart failure stabilized. They can also lead to sudden cardiac arrest .
  • Liver failure —Excess fluid build-up affects the liver's ability to function normally. It may also cause the liver to enlarge.
  • Kidney failure —Reduced blood flow to the kidneys results in fluid retention, leading to edema. It also increases blood pressure, forcing the heart to work harder.
  • Stroke —Reduced blood flow to the brain and increased blood pressure can cause a stroke.

References:

Heart failure. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 7, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2013.

Signs and symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure website. Available at: http://www.heartfailure.org/heart-failure/signs-symptoms. Accessed October 7, 2013.

Symptoms & diagnosis of heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/SymptomsDiagnosisofHeartFailure/Symptoms-Diagnosis-of-Heart-Failure_UCM_002047_Article.jsp. Updated September 20, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2013.

Vasan RS, Benjamin EJ, et al. Prevalence, clinical features and prognosis of diastolic heart failure; an epidemiologic perspective. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1995;26:1565-1574.

What are the signs and symptoms of heart failure? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf/signs.html. Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2013.



Last reviewed September 2014 by Michael J. Fucci, DO

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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