When the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should be, heart failure is occurring. When this happens and the heart can’t properly circulate blood throughout the body, cells don’t get the oxygen that they need, which can lead to many side effects. Symptoms of heart failure are usually the result of the body compensating for the heart’s weakness, and symptoms may include:
• Shortness of breath: This can include breathlessness during activity (which is most common), while at rest, or may come on suddenly during sleep and wake the individual up. This happens because blood “backs up” in the pulmonary veins that return blood from the lungs to the heart due to the heart not being able to keep up with the blood supply, causing fluid to leak into the lungs.
• Coughing and wheezing: As a result of fluid leaking into the lungs as described above, an individual may develop coughing that produces white or pink-tinted mucus.
• Fatigue and lightheadedness: This may include a tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities such as shopping, climbing stairs, carrying items, or walking. This occurs because the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the needs of body tissues due to blood being diverted away from less vital organs to be sent to the heart and brain.
• Increased heart rate: To make up for the loss in blood pumping capacity, the heart beats faster, causing palpitations that feel like the heart is racing or throbbing.
• Swelling of the extremities or abdomen: As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart backs up, causing fluid to build up in the tissues. The kidneys are also less able to dispose of sodium and water, causing fluid retention in the tissues.
• Lack of appetite and/or nausea: Because the digestive system is receiving less blood, the body begins to have difficulty digesting food.
• Confusion and/or impaired thinking: Often noticed by a loved one or caregiver first, memory loss or feelings of disorientation may occur as a result of changing levels of substances in the blood, such as sodium.
If you notice any of these symptoms of heart failure in yourself or another, seek immediate medical care! The more quickly heart failure is treated, the more likely it is that the patient’s life can be saved, and irreversible damage be minimized or avoided.