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Heart Failure Health Center

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Heart Failure - Symptoms

At first you may not have any symptoms from heart failure. For a while, your heart and body can make up for heart failure. For example, your heart can pump faster and pump more blood with each beat. This is called compensation.

But as your heart has more trouble pumping enough blood to your body, you will likely have symptoms. These symptoms may get worse or change if your heart failure gets worse.

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Understanding Heart Failure -- the Basics

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump blood effectively to the lungs or the rest of the body. This can be because the person has developed a weakened heart muscle or because the heart muscle has thickened or stiffened, making it difficult to fill the heart and backing up blood into the lungs. With heart failure, the weakened heart pumps less blood than usual, causing the kidneys and adrenal glands to produce chemicals that help the body to hold onto salt and water. In...

Read the Understanding Heart Failure -- the Basics article > >

Symptoms of heart failure start to happen when your heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of your body. In the early stages, you may:

  • Feel tired easily.
  • Be short of breath when you exert yourself.
  • Feel like your heart is pounding or racing (palpitations).
  • Feel weak or dizzy.

As heart failure gets worse, fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other parts of your body. This may cause you to:

  • Feel short of breath even at rest.
  • Have swelling (edema), especially in your legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Gain weight. This may happen over just a day or two, or more slowly.
  • Cough or wheeze, especially when you lie down.
  • Need to urinate more at night.
  • Feel bloated or sick to your stomach.

How doctors talk about heart failure

Heart failure is grouped-or classified-according to symptoms. Your treatment is based partly on what class of symptoms you have.

There's also another way to define heart failure. It's based on the stages you might go through as your heart failure gets worse. Your doctor also may make treatment choices based on your stage of heart failure.

Symptoms of sudden heart failure

Sometimes your symptoms may get worse very quickly. This is called sudden heart failure. It causes fluid to build up in your lungs, causing congestion. (This is why the problem is often called congestive heart failure.) Symptoms may include:

  • Severe shortness of breath.
  • An irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Coughing up foamy, pink mucus.

Sudden heart failure is an emergency. You need care right away.

More information

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: April 18, 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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