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Heart Disease and Congestive Heart Failure

What Are the Symptoms of Heart Failure?

You may not have any symptoms of heart failure, or the symptoms may be mild to severe. Symptoms can be constant or can come and go. The symptoms can include:

  • Congested lungs. Fluid backup in the lungs can cause shortness of breath with exercise or difficulty breathing at rest or when lying flat in bed. Lung congestion can also cause a dry, hacking cough or wheezing.
  • Fluid and water retention. Less blood to your kidneys causes fluid and water retention, resulting in swollen ankles, legs, abdomen (called edema), and weight gain. Symptoms may cause an increased need to urinate during the night. Bloating in your stomach may cause a loss of appetite or nausea.
  • Dizziness, fatigue, and weakness. Less blood to your major organs and muscles makes you feel tired and weak. Less blood to the brain can cause dizziness or confusion.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats. The heart beats faster to pump enough blood to the body. This can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these symptoms or you may have none of them. They may or may not indicate a weakened heart.

 

What Are the Types of Heart Failure?

Systolic dysfunction (or systolic heart failure) occurs when the heart muscle doesn't contract with enough force, so there is less oxygen-rich blood that is pumped throughout the body.

Diastolic dysfunction (or diastolic heart failure) occurs when the heart contracts normally, but the ventricles do not relax properly or are stiff, and less blood enters the heart during normal filling.

A calculation done during an echocardiogram, called the ejection fraction (EF), is used to measure how well your heart pumps with each beat to help determine if systolic or diastolic dysfunction is present. Your doctor can discuss which condition you have.

How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you many questions about your symptoms and medical history. You will be asked about any conditions you have that may cause heart failure (such as coronary artery disease, angina, diabetes, heart valve disease, and high blood pressure). You will be asked if you smoke, take drugs, drink alcohol (and how much you drink), and about what drugs you take.

You will also get a complete physical exam. Your doctor will listen to your heart and look for signs of heart failure as well as other illnesses that may have caused your heart muscle to weaken or stiffen.

Your doctor may also order other tests to determine the cause and severity of your heart failure. These include:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests are used to evaluate kidney and thyroid function as well as to check cholesterol levels and the presence of anemia. Anemia is a blood condition that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin (the substance in red blood cells that enables the blood to transport oxygen through the body) in a person's blood.
  • B-type Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) blood test. BNP is a substance secreted from the heart in response to changes in blood pressure that occur when heart failure develops or worsens. BNP blood levels increase when heart failure symptoms worsen, and decrease when the heart failure condition is stable. The BNP level in a person with heart failure -- even someone whose condition is stable -- is higher than in a person with normal heart function. BNP levels do not necessarily correlate with the severity of heart failure.
  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray shows the size of your heart and whether there is fluid build-up around the heart and lungs.
  • Echocardiogram.This test is an ultrasound which shows the heart's movement, structure, and function. 
  • The Ejection Fraction (EF) is used to measure how well your heart pumps with each beat to determine if systolic dysfunction or heart failure with preserved left ventricular function is present. Your doctor can discuss which condition is present in your heart.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). An EKG records the electrical impulses traveling through the heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization. This invasive procedure helps determine whether coronary artery disease is a cause of congestive heart failure.
  • Stress Test. Noninvasive stress tests provide information about the likelihood of coronary artery disease.

Other tests may be ordered, depending on your condition.

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