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Heart failure warning signs: Be alert to signs of a weakened heart

Heart failure means your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be. The problem develops gradually, so the signs can be easily missed. If you have more than one of the warning signs listed below, you should talk with your doctor.

Shortness of breath

How to spot it: You get breathless during activity or at rest. You prop your upper body on pillows when lying down so that you can breathe more easily.

Why it happens: Your heart isn’t pumping well enough to keep up with the supply of blood returning from the lungs. That makes fluid leak into your lungs.

Coughing or wheezing

How to spot it: You have a cough that doesn’t go away and produces white or blood-tinged mucus.

Why it happens: Your heart isn’t pumping well enough to keep up with the supply of blood returning from the lungs. That makes fluid leak into your lungs.

Confusion

How to spot it: You have some memory loss and feel disoriented. (Because your thinking is impaired, someone else might notice this before you do.)

Why it happens: Retaining water can change the level of substances—like sodium—in your blood. Sodium is important for the nervous system, and so altered levels can cause confusion.

Poor appetite

How to spot it: You feel full or nauseous.

Why it happens: Your digestive system isn't getting enough blood to do its job.

Fast heart rate

How to spot it: You feel like your heart is racing or beating hard.

Why it happens: Your heart is trying to make up for poor blood flow by beating faster.

Fatigue

How to spot it: You feel tired or lightheaded much of the time, with little energy for routine activities.

Why it happens: Your heart isn't pumping enough blood to supply your whole body, so your body takes blood away from less vital areas—like leg muscles—to send to the heart and brain.

Fluid buildup (edema)

How to spot it: You have swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen. You may have gained weight. Why it happens: The blood leaving your heart has slowed down, and so blood returning to your heart gets backed up, causing fluid to build up in your tissues.

Whether you have a heart problem or not, it’s important to learn what you can do to help keep your heart healthy.

LEARN MORE ABOUT HEART HEALTH

Sources: American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health

reviewed 1/2/2018

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