Heart Failure Symptoms - Topic Overview
Shortness of breath continued...
Shortness of breath while sleeping. Some
people with heart failure wake up in the middle of the night with severe
shortness of breath. The medical term for this symptom is paroxysmal nocturnal
dyspnea (PND). This may occur with waking up
coughing and/or wheezing, having a rapid heart rate, and a feeling of being
In general, people who experience PND don't feel increased
shortness of breath when they first lie down. But after several hours of
lying down, they awake with shortness of breath, which often occurs suddenly.
People who experience PND often have to sit up on the side of the bed, and they
may feel a need to open a window to get more air. The shortness of breath
generally goes away after a few minutes of sitting up.
Being very tired (fatigue)
You might feel that:
- You have less energy
and feel more tired than usual.
- You can't exert yourself like you could
You might also have
low exercise capacity. This can be harder to describe. It is a symptom that
people with heart failure often don't even notice because they have gradually
reduced the level at which they exert themselves.
For example, they may stop walking up the stairs, or they may drive
to the store instead of walking. Some people at first deny that they have been
experiencing this symptom. It is only after doctors ask them about changes in
their activities that they realize they have been avoiding physical exertion.
This decrease in your ability to exert yourself physically is what doctors call
low exercise capacity.
Swelling in ankles or feet
heart failure often experience swelling in their
ankles or feet. You might notice that:
- It gets worse at the end of the day
or after you stand for long periods.
- It hurts.
- Pressure leaves impressions in
- Shoes no longer fit.
The degree of swelling you experience depends on how well your
body is compensating for heart failure and how much sodium and water your body
retains. In some cases the swelling is mild and merely bothersome, while in
other cases it can be severe and painful if the skin becomes taut and