Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart fails to pump blood as efficiently as it should. Certain conditions render the heart too stiff or weak to work to full capacity, such as high blood pressure or narrowed or clogged arteries. These conditions cause a range of symptoms.
Congestive heart failure does not always produce initial symptoms, which can make it difficult to notice and diagnose promptly. For a time after problems develop, the heart and body can compensate for the shortcomings. The heart may start pumping faster and pumping more blood each time it beats. Over time, this excess effort makes the heart weaker and it becomes less able to move the blood. This is when the signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure begin to appear.
Difficulty breathing is one of the most common symptoms of congestive heart failure, often presenting as dyspnea or shortness of breath. The symptom may be most noticeable when lying down, first waking up, or during exercise. This can occur because the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the organs or because fluid is already accumulating in the lungs. In more severe cases, this symptom can develop in conjunction with coughing up pink, foamy mucus.
Frequent physical and mental fatigue is common in people with congestive heart failure. They often feel exhausted even when they have not physically exerted themselves and are well-rested, and actions that were once simple, such as walking up a flight of stairs, can feel insurmountable. Like breathing difficulties, fatigue develops because the heart cannot pump enough blood to the organs and muscles throughout the body.
Although not as common, changes in urination can be symptoms of heart failure. Some people experience an increased urge to urinate at night, while others will urinate more often during the day. Constipation can also develop due to heart failure, and straining or pushing to pass a bowel movement will further aggravate the symptoms. Both symptoms are indicative of the body's inability to properly function due to the inconsistent blood supply.
Swelling or edema in various areas such as the hands, abdomen, legs, feet, and ankles, can develop due to congestive heart failure. The swelling may worsen as the day progresses or following strenuous activity. Individuals may also start feeling bloated because bloating is related to the fluid accumulated in the abdomen.
A sudden worsening of a heart condition can cause fluid buildup in the lungs, leading to congestion that causes a dry, hacking cough and wheezing. This symptom is often more noticeable when the individual is lying down and may persist without apparent cause. The cough may expel pink or white phlegm.
Irregular heartbeat is common in individuals with congestive heart failure. The individual may feel their heart is either racing or pounding and may experience palpitations and chest pains. The latter is often apparent when a heart attack causes congestive heart failure, and pain may extend to the upper body, as well.
A person with congestive heart failure may feel nauseated more frequently and experience a decrease in appetite. Less blood pumping to the muscles, organs, and brain can also cause dizziness, confusion, and numbness or tingling in the extremities.
When one's appetite decreases but he or she is still gaining weight, this is a sign of a medical issue. Rapid increases in weight in individuals with heart failure (such as two or three pounds in 24 hours or five pounds over a couple of weeks) are often due to fluid retention because the heart is pumping less blood to kidneys, which is also the cause of edema or swelling and bloating.
When the heart is not functioning properly, reduced blood flow to the brain and electrolyte imbalances can result in reduced alertness and concentration, and may also affect memory and thought processes.
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