Signs of Heart Failure

Heart failure is an acute or chronic condition accompanied by the weakening of the myocardial contractility and impaired hemodynamics. When the cardiac muscle is weakened, it’s unable to function properly and to pump right amounts of blood into the systemic circulation. This condition causes the congestion of blood in the pulmonary and systemic circulations and is very dangerous because it can provoke severe complications leading to disability and death of patients.

Heart failure is considered a complication of cardiovascular diseases - it can develop in the setting of hypertension, ischemic heart disease, valvular heart defects, inflammation of the cardiac muscle (myocarditis) and cardiomyopathy. General check-up can help detect the symptoms of heart failure as well as of those conditions that aggravate it such as hyperthyroidism, anemia, hemochromatosis, etc.

According to the severity of cardiac symptoms, there are four stages of heart failure:

  • Very mild. The patient doesn’t experience any difficulties during physical activity. Usual level of physical activity doesn’t provoke weakness, fatigue, faintness, palpitations, angina pains or breathlessness. However, certain heart problems can be detected during a check-up.
  • Mild. The patient is comfortable at rest, but routine physical activity like walking or going up the stairs provokes fatigue, palpitations or breathlessness.
  • Moderate. Although, the patient is comfortable at rest, even slight physical activity like dressing oneself causes breathlessness, palpitations and other heart failure signs. The symptoms subside when the activity is stopped.
  • Severe. The patient cannot carry out any physical activity without experiencing heart failure symptoms. Breathlessness, fatigue and palpitations are present even when the patient is at rest. Any, even slightest, physical activity causes increased discomfort.

The most common heart failure symptoms include:

  • Cardiac asthma characterized by chronic coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Heart failure patients can experience breathlessness during physical activity, while sleeping or at rest, which may occur suddenly. Breathing difficulties may appear while the patient lies flat; after waking up the patient is still tired or feeling restless. Coughing associated with heart failure is usually accompanied by white or pink blood-tinged mucus. All these symptoms are caused by the congestion of blood in the pulmonary vessels that leads to the leakage of fluid into the lungs.
  • Edemas. Patients experience swelling in the legs, feet, ankles or abdomen as well as weight gain. The weakened heart cannot pump enough blood to the kidneys, so the blood flow to the kidneys becomes restricted and they start synthesizing hormones that cause water and salt retention. This process can also provoke increased need to urinate at night because the body tries to remove the excesses of fluid.
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate). Those suffering from heart failure can experience heart palpitations – the feeling like the heart is throbbing or racing. It happens because the heart has to beat faster to compensate for the failing ability to provide proper blood supply to all body organs.
  • Confusion. Heart failure can be accompanied by feelings of disorientation, inability to think clearly and memory loss. These symptoms are caused by the inability of the heart to pump enough blood rich with oxygen to the brain.
  • Lack of appetite or nausea. They are associated with inadequate blood supply to the digestive system, so its organs cannot receive enough blood to function properly and that causes digestive problems.
  • Rapid fatigability. With the progression of heart failure, the heart loses its ability to pump enough blood needed for the body to function properly. So, to compensate, the body diverts the blood away from less vital areas like muscles in the arms and legs and sends it to the brain and heart, which causes weakness and tiredness and makes it difficult to perform everyday activities like walking or carrying groceries.

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