If you have heart failure, you may not have any symptoms, or the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Symptoms can be constant or can come and go. Heart failure symptoms are related to the changes that occur to your heart and body, and the severity depends on how weak your heart is. The symptoms can include:
Congested lungs. A weak heart causes fluid to back up in the lungs. This 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. A weak heart pumps less blood to your kidneys and causes fluid and water retention, resulting in swollen ankles, legs, and abdomen (called edema) and weight gain. This can also cause an increased need to urinate during the night as your body attempts to get rid of this excess fluid. Bloating in your stomach may cause a loss of appetite or nausea.
Rapid or irregular heartbeats. The heart beats faster to pump enough blood to the body. This can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.
If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these symptoms or you may have none of them. In addition, your symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is; you may have many symptoms but your heart function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a more severely damaged heart but have few symptoms.
It’s true that advanced heart failure can't be cured -- but it can be treated.
“There is so much you and your medical team can do to help you to have a longer, better life,” says Michael A. Mathier, MD, a cardiologist and the director of heart failure at the University of Pittsburgh.
Play an active part in your treatment, because that can improve your symptoms. It can also help you feel more in control of your disease, which is caused by damage to the heart and develops over time.
Maintain fluid balance. Your doctor may ask you to keep a record of the amount of fluids you drink or eat and how often you go to the bathroom. Remember, the more fluid you carry in your blood vessels, the harder your heart must work to pump excess fluid through your body. Limiting your fluid intake to less than two liters per day will help decrease the workload of your heart and prevent symptoms from recurring.
Limit how much salt (sodium) you eat.
Monitor your weight and lose weight if needed. Learn what your "dry" or "ideal" weight is. This is your weight without extra fluid. Your goal is to keep your weight within four pounds of your dry weight. Weigh yourself at the same time each day, preferably in the morning, in similar clothing, after urinating but before eating, and on the same scale. Record your weight in a diary or calendar. If you gain 2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week, call your doctor. Your doctor may want to adjust your medications.
Monitor your symptoms. Call your doctor if new symptoms occur or if your symptoms worsen. Do not wait for your symptoms to become so severe that you need to seek emergency treatment.
Take your medications as prescribed. Drugs are used to improve your heart's ability to pump blood, decrease stress on your heart, decrease the progression of heart failure, and prevent fluid retention. Many heart failure drugs are used to decrease the release of harmful hormones. These drugs will cause your blood vessels to dilate or relax (thereby lowering your blood pressure).