The words “heart failure” certainly sound scary. If you’ve been told that you have heart failure or you’re at risk, you may fear that your heart is about to quit working at any second! What heart failure really means is that your heart isn’t working as well as it should. Your heart muscle has weakened, and it can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet all of your body’s needs. With proper treatment, many people with heart failure experience an improvement of symptoms and heart function and live relatively normal lives.If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure or have been told that you may be at risk, it’s important that you work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that addresses your needs and the severity of your disease. The two basic components of most treatment plans are medication and lifestyle changes.The best way to respond to heart failure is to educate yourself, listen to your doctor’s advice and pay attention to what your body is telling you.Warning signs of heart failure tend to develop gradually. Because they come on slowly, in the disease’s early stages, signs and symptoms may be missed or attributed to another condition. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of heart failure and some of what causes them.
Shortness of Breath – Because the heart can’t pump blood fast enough, it “backs up” in the veins that connect the lungs to the heart causing fluid to leak into the lungs, producing shortness of breath, especially when lying down.
Cough or Wheezing -Similar to shortness of breath, the leaking fluid into the lungs produces a cough or wheeze.
Swelling of Body Tissues – When blood flow back to the heart slows, fluid builds up in tissues such as the lungs, feet, legs and abdomen. The kidneys also become less efficient in disposing of water and sodium. making tissues more susceptible to fluid retention.
Weight Gain – Fluid retention causes weight gain.
Fatigue -With a reduced supply of freshly oxygenated blood to meet the body’s needs, blood is diverted away from less vital organs, particularly muscles in the arms and legs, making them more susceptible to fatigue.
Reduced Appetite and Nausea -The digestive system receives less blood, thereby reducing appetite and causing digestive problems.
Difficulty Concentrating – Changes in blood components, such as an increase in sodium, can affect alertness, as can not getting enough blood to the brain.
Increased Heart Rate – To try to make up for its reduced capacity to pump blood, the heart beats faster.
Mayo Clinic Health Letter Special Report