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Heart Failure: Less Common Symptoms - Topic Overview

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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.

These symptoms usually occur only in people with chronic, severe heart failure. If your extremities suddenly become cold and clammy, and other symptoms of heart failure, such as fluid buildup (edema), mental confusion, or decreased urine, are becoming worse, you may be going into shock. Shock develops when the amount of blood your heart is pumping becomes critically low. If you experience signs of shock, you will need immediate medical attention.

What happens when the brain doesn't get enough blood? When the body can no longer compensate adequately for the failing heart, blood circulation to the brain will start to drop. Without enough blood, the brain does not function well, resulting in lightheadedness and/or mental confusion.

Lightheadedness is a sensation of dizziness or mild disorientation. People with heart failure may also experience lightheadedness as a side effect of certain medications.

When blood flow to the brain becomes critically low, people with heart failure may experience an inability to think clearly. Specifically, they may have problems with their memory or with understanding language. This can be particularly dangerous because it can prevent people with severe symptoms from being able to report them to their doctor.

Mental confusion resulting from heart failure means that the amount of blood the heart is pumping is critically low. Typically, this level of impairment occurs in people who are already hospitalized with heart failure. If this is not the case, someone with heart failure who experiences mental confusion needs to see a doctor immediately.

What causes impotence in men who have heart failure? Some men with heart failure cannot achieve an erection (impotence). The specific cause of this impotence can vary. In some cases it results from low blood flow to the genitals caused by the failing heart. In other cases, it can happen as a result of the buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis) in the arteries that supply blood to the genitals. Atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary artery disease) is often what causes heart failure in men who experience impotence.

Also, impotence can be the result of depression or other psychological factors related to heart failure. Certain medicines used to treat heart failure may also cause impotence.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
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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