Heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working. Rather, it means that your heart is working less efficiently. Blood may move through the heart and body slower, and pressure in the heart increases. As a result, it can’t pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet your body's needs.
The chambers of your heart respond by stretching to hold more blood to pump. This helps to keep the blood moving. But in time, the heart muscle walls may weaken and become unable to pump as strongly. The kidneys often respond by causing the body to retain fluid and sodium. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, or other organs, the body becomes congested. This is called congestive heart failure.
Heart failure, as the almost 6 million Americans with it know, doesn’t mean “failure.” It doesn’t mean “stopped.”
If you have the condition, it may mean a new lifestyle and a new way of thinking. It means living with a serious, chronic disease.
The important word there: living.
“First of all, heart failure is an unfortunate and inaccurate term,” says Lynne Warner Stevenson, the director of the cardiomyopathy and heart failure program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It usually means that the...
They’re related to the changes heart failure brings to your heart and body. They may be mild, moderate, or severe. The symptoms can include:
Congested lungs: Fluid backup in your lungs can cause shortness of breath when you exercise or trouble breathing while you rest. Air is often harder to get when you’re 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 you to retain fluid. That means swollen ankles, legs, and abdomen. You may hear that swelling called edema. The extra fluid can also cause weight gain. If your body is hanging on to fluid, you may need to pee more during the night. It may also cause bloating, which can make you nauseous and less hungry.
Dizziness, fatigue, and weakness: Less blood to your major organs and muscles makes you feel tired and weak. Less blood to the brain can bring dizziness or confusion.
Rapid or irregular heartbeats. This happens because your heart beats faster to pump enough blood.
If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these symptoms or you may have none of them.
Your symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is.