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Heart Failure: Less Common Symptoms - Topic Overview

While there are certain symptoms that people with heart failure experience more commonly, there are many other symptoms that heart failure can cause. These symptoms are typically less common because they often result from more severe heart failure, when the body can no longer compensate properly for the failing heart.

The first table summarizes congestive symptoms that result from fluid leaking into the lungs and the rest of the body. The second table summarizes symptoms that occur because the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body's needs, which causes poor blood circulation. After the tables is a more detailed explanation of each symptom.

Tell your doctor if you experience any of these less common symptoms.

Symptoms of congestion

Symptom

What happens?

What causes it?

Cough
  • Most commonly a dry cough (without phlegm)
  • More severe heart failure can cause a wet cough—coughing up pink, frothy fluid.
  • Some people experience wheezing, similar to that caused by asthma.
Backup of blood and fluid into the lungs
Abdominal bloatingAbdominal bloating can result from fluid backup in your:
  • Liver, which makes your abdomen feel swollen or tender.
  • Stomach, which causes decreased appetite, bloating, and nausea.
  • Intestines, which causes decreased appetite and poor absorption of medicines and food.

Abdominal cavity ascites, tenderness, or fever can indicate an infection in this fluid buildup.

Backup of blood and fluid into different parts of the gastrointestinal system or abdominal cavity
Symptoms of poor blood circulation

Symptom

What happens? What does it feel like?

Results from poor circulation to the:

Less frequent urination
  • During the day, you may urinate less often than you normally do (because of poor blood flow to the kidneys).
  • At night, you may urinate more often than you normally do (because fluid in the legs reenters the circulation when you lie down).
Kidneys
Feeling cold in arms, legs, hands, and feet
  • May feel cold due to poor circulation
Arms, legs, hands, and feet
Lightheadedness
  • Sensation of dizziness or mild disorientation
Brain
Mental confusion
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Problems with memory or ability to understand language
Brain
Fainting or passing out
  • Losing consciousness suddenly (blacking out)
Brain
Impotence
  • Inability to achieve an erection
Male genitals

How does heart failure make the arms, legs, hands, and feet feel cold? People with heart failure may find that they often feel cold in their arms, hands, feet, and legs (the extremities). This happens because the body is circulating most of the available blood to the brain and other vital organs to compensate for the failing heart's inability to pump enough blood to the entire body. As a result, the extremities get less blood, and without blood to warm them, these parts of your body feel cold.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 26, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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