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Signs of Heart Failure

By themselves, any one sign of heart failure may not be cause for alarm. But if you have more than one of these symptoms, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any heart problems, report them to your GP and ask for an evaluation of your heart. If you are still unsure demand a BNP test.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it’s important for you to keep track of symptoms and report any sudden changes to your GP or Heart Failure Nurse.

This table lists the most common signs and symptoms, explains why they occur and describes how to recognise them.

Shortness of breath (also called dyspnea)

Breathlessness during activity (most commonly), at rest, or while sleeping, which may come on suddenly and wake you up. You often have difficulty breathing while lying flat and may need to prop up the upper body and head on two pillows. You often complain of waking up tired or feeling anxious and restless.

Blood “backs up” in the pulmonary veins (the vessels that return blood from the lungs to the heart) because the heart can’t keep up with the supply. This causes fluid to leak into the lungs.

Persistent coughing or wheezing

People who have Heart Failure may experience
Coughing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.

Why it happens
Fluid builds up in the lungs

Buildup of excess fluid in body tissues (Oedema)

People who have Heart Failure may experience
Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen or weight gain. You may find that your shoes feel tight.

Why it happens
As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing fluid to build up in the tissues. The kidneys are less able to dispose of sodium and water, also causing fluid retention in the tissues.

Tiredness, fatigue

People who have Heart Failure may experience
A tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities, such as shopping, climbing stairs, carrying groceries or walking.

Why it happens
The heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the needs of body tissues. The body diverts blood away from less vital organs, particularly muscles in the limbs, and sends it to the heart and brain.

Lack of appetite, nausea

People who have Heart Failure may experience
Feeling of being full or sick to your stomach.

Why it happens
The digestive system receives less blood, causing problems with digestion.

Confusion, impaired thinking

People who have Heart Failure may experience
Memory loss and feelings of disorientation. A carer or relative may notice this first.

Why it happens
Changing levels of certain substances in the blood, such as sodium, can cause confusion.

Increased heart rate

People who have Heart Failure may experience
Heart palpitations, which feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.

Why it happens
To “make up for” the loss in pumping capacity, the heart beats faster.

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