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Heart Failure Symptoms

Symptoms provide the key to detecting heart failure in its earliest stages. That's why HonorHealth wants you to recognize heart failure symptoms and talk with your physician when they occur.

Heart failure symptoms depend on the area of the heart that's damaged or weakened:

  • Left-sided heart failure: This is most likely to involve edema (swelling) congestion in the lungs, accompanied by difficulty breathing.
  • Right-sided heart failure: This typically results in edema in the feet, ankles, legs, fingers, abdomen and abdominal organs. Because a weakened heart cannot pump out enough blood, it has less room to accommodate blood returning from other parts of the body. Sudden weight gain resulting from this swelling is common.

While symptoms involving heart failure may be isolated to one area of the body, heart failure effects can be felt throughout the body and severely impair your quality of life.

Left-Sided Heart Failure Indications

Left-sided heart failure is related to pulmonary congestion. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. When the left side is not pumping correctly, blood backs up in the blood vessels of the lungs — pulmonary edema. As blood backs up in the lungs, pressure in the veins of the lungs increases. Fluids within the lungs are pushed into breathing spaces, interrupting the normal flow of oxygen.

Related symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath often becomes a problem during physical activity, but also can happen during rest. Difficulty breathing may occur suddenly at night, but may subside by moving around. Extra pillows to prop up your upper body can help you breathe more easily in bed.
  • Persistent cough: A seemingly unexplained cough produces pink phlegm containing blood.
  • Pulmonary crackles: Popping sounds occur when air is forced through lung passages narrowed by fluid build-up.
  • Third heart sound: The normal heartbeat has two sounds made as the heart contracts (pumps blood) and expands (fills with blood). With heart failure, a third sound becomes apparent: The walls of the heart's ventricles vibrate when blood fills the heart.
  • Reduced urine output: With heart failure, the kidneys cannot function properly. Sodium remains in the body, causing water retention.
  • Low oxygen saturation levels: This results from the heart's inability to receive oxygen-rich blood from the lungs.
  • Altered digestion.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and confusion.
  • Restlessness and anxiety.
  • Fatigue and weakness.

Right-Sided Heart Failure Indications

Edema (persistent swelling) of the feet, ankles and legs is the most common symptom of heart failure in the right side of the heart. Edema also can occur in the fingers, abdomen and abdominal organs. Sudden weight gain resulting from swelling is common.

Other symptoms involving the right side of the heart include:

  • Enlargement of the liver.
  • Ascites: Excess fluid between the tissues lining the abdomen and abdominal organs.
  • Severe loss of appetite, accompanied by abdominal pain and nausea.
  • Weakness.

Find an HonorHealth cardiologist.