10 Silent Signs You Could Have Congestive Heart Failure
As the heart weakens, it sends you signals that all is not right. Knowing how to catch these symptoms of congestive heart failure promptly can literally save your life.
You’re out of breath
Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart pumps less effectively, meaning blood flowing to the heart backs up throughout the body, and blood flowing from the heart is inadequate to meet the body’s needs. One of the first symptoms of congestive heart failure is shortness of breath during normal daily chores or errands. “When the heart is impaired, blood backs up into the lungs making it hard to breathe,” says Gregg Fonarow, MD, spokesperson for the American Heart Association, heart failure cardiologist, and co-chair of the UCLA division of cardiology. “Patients present differently, but for some, the most disturbing symptom is this shortness of breath,” he adds. “It can get so bad people have trouble breathing even during rest.”
Your footwear doesn’t fit
The buildup of excess fluid in the body’s tissues, called edema, causes swelling most commonly in the feet and legs. “People may notice their shoes feel tight or their socks make lines on their ankles,” says Dr. Fonarow. In addition, with heart failure, the kidneys are less able to dispose of water and sodium, which also contributes to the retention of fluid in the tissues, says the American Heart Association (AHA). Check out these 12 heart health breakthroughs that could save your life.
You’re coughing and wheezing
The backup of fluids could also trigger coughing, says Dr. Fonarow. “It’s because of this symptom that heart failure can sometimes be misdiagnosed as asthma or bronchitis,” he explains. A cough that worsens at night and when lying down could be a sign of acute pulmonary edema, a condition in which too much fluid accumulates in your lungs requiring emergency attention, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
You’re always worn out
Simple activities like climbing stairs or vacuuming could leave you feeling lightheaded and fatigued. When the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, the body compensates by diverting blood away from less vital organs—especially muscles in the limbs—and re-routing it to the brain and heart, explains the AHA. This fatigue is another one of the symptoms of congestive heart failure that Dr. Fonarow sees become particularly bothersome to patients: “It can get so debilitating they can’t get through their daily activities.” Here are the best and worst diets for heart health.
You’re sick to your stomach
Some people notice decreased appetite or nausea due to the fact that the digestive system is getting less blood, which could lead to an upset stomach, says the AHA.
Your ticker is working overtime
“If some people were to check their heart rate, they would see it’s actually increased, and some might experience palpitations,” says Dr. Fonarow. This is because the heart is working harder to make up for its reduced pumping capacity. Here are 11 other silent signs of a heart attack that you shouldn’t ignore.
You notice these symptoms gradually … or maybe all of a sudden
Depending on the underlying cause—be it a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart damage such as from a heart attack—heart failure could strike in different ways. “Sometimes it’s subtle and develops over time and sometimes it’s more dramatic,” says Dr. Fonarow. These are the 9 things you should know about heart attacks (before you have one).
You have certain congestive heart failure risk factors
Anyone who is already at risk for heart health issues should be particularly alert if they start to notice these symptoms of congestive heart failure. Risk factors include being over the age of 65 (the heart muscle can weaken with aging), being overweight (excess poundage strains the heart), and having suffered a heart attack (the resulting damage can weaken the heart), says the NHLBI. In children, those with congenital heart defects may also develop heart failure. Don’t miss these 11 other surprising heart attack risk factors you probably didn’t know about.
You continue to feel worse, not better
If you notice these symptoms of congestive heart failure and don’t go to the doctor for help, things will only go downhill as your weakening heart becomes unable to power even the most basic activities. “You may begin to feel tired and short of breath after getting dressed or walking across the room,” says the NHLBI. “Some people have shortness of breath while lying flat.” Dr. Fonarow warns that it’s critical to catch the condition before it progresses to an emergency because heart failure left untreated is an extremely dangerous downward slope. “The survival rates with untreated heart failure are worse than with most cancers. Without adequate treatment, people will not be alive within five years of diagnosis.” It’s better to be safe than sorry.
With heart failure treatment, you feel incredibly better
Once you take these symptoms to your doctor, it’s your physician’s job to determine the underlying cause of the disorder then plan the right treatment—a job made harder by the fact that these symptoms are also caused by so many other conditions (including respiratory infection and COPD) that misdiagnosis is common. The good news is today’s medicine works very well to make patients feel better and extend life. “The progress in the treatment of heart failure over the past 20 years has been nothing short of remarkable,” says Dr. Fonarow. “There are now extremely effective medications that can help prevent the disease from getting worse and dramatically improve survival.” Next, check out these 30 other ways to reduce your own risk of heart disease.