Congestive Heart Failure - Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

The symptoms of congestive heart failure vary among individuals according to the particular organ systems involved and depending on the degree to which the rest of the body has "compensated" for the heart muscle weakness.

  • An early symptom of congestive heart failure is fatigue. While fatigue is a sensitive indicator of possible underlying congestive heart failure, it is obviously a nonspecific symptom that may be caused by many other conditions. The person's ability to exercise may also diminish. Patients may not even sense this decrease and they may subconsciously reduce their activities to accommodate this limitation.
  • As the body becomes overloaded with fluid from congestive heart failure, swelling (edema) of the ankles and legs or abdomen may be noticed. This can be referred to as "right-sided heart failure" as failure of the right-sided heart chambers to pump venous blood to the lungs to acquire oxygen results in buildup of this fluid in gravity-dependent areas such as in the legs. The most common cause of this is longstanding failure of the left heart, which may lead to secondary failure of the right heart. Right-sided heart failure can also be caused by severe lung disease (referred to as "cor pulmonale"), or by intrinsic disease of the right heart muscle (less common).
  • In addition, fluid may accumulate in the lungs, thereby causing shortness of breath, particularly during exercise and when lying flat. In some instances, patients are awakened at night, gasping for air.
  • Some may be unable to sleep unless sitting upright.
  • The extra fluid in the body may cause increased urination, particularly at night.
  • Accumulation of fluid in the liver and intestines may cause nausea, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Zoche, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 22

Recently, I was hospitalized for a week. When I entered, my blood pressure was very low and I was anemic. I have been suffering from swollen legs and ankles. My blood pressure goes up and down even though I'm on three blood pressure medications. I have lupus, but it has never affected my heart. I am experiencing extreme fatigue and when I do normal activities I sweat profusely. I have had several bouts with pneumonia and asthma. I had two heart catheters, which showed no blockage. Upon discharge, the hospital gave me information about congestive heart failure. The doctors never even discussed this with me. What should I do?

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Comment from: Forever3k, 19-24 Male (Patient) Published: May 15

I'm 19 years old and was diagnosed with CHF when I was 17 a couple months before my 18th birthday. I became really sick, with lots of vomiting. I'd stopped being active, gained lots weight, and started swelling. I had fluid in my lungs and went to the ER, where I was then admitted me to a large children's hospital. Since then, I've been on all kinds of medications fluid pills, baby aspirin, and blood pressure pills. I feel that none of them do anything. The fluid pills just make me pee a lot. I still have swollen feet and experience shortness of breath, but not all of the time. I used to work in a refinery and would climb 75 steps in four flights of stairs, and would have to stop and catch my breath. But I still got to the top. Other than that, nothing else has happened. I don't see my doc for another three months. The only thing that really bothers me is that my feet blow up like balloons, which makes me not want to go anywhere because it's really noticeable.

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