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11 Heart Failure Symptoms You Should Not Ignore

Ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to heart failure. Educate yourself about heart failure with Novartis at Keep It Pumping.

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1 in 3 people mistake heart failure symptoms for signs of aging. Help yourself out by learning the following warning signs for heart failure:

1. Shortness of Breath


Those with heart failure will commonly experience shortness of breath. Due to the heart's inability to effectively pump blood, the blood remains in the pulmonary veins, the blood vessels returning to the heart from the lungs.

You should:

• Contact your doctor if you notice that [the shortness of breath] makes you do less and less as weeks/months go on.

• Be seen by your doctor within a week if you notice that you can't complete one to two flights of stairs without having to stop to catch your breath.

• Call 911 and go to the ER [do not wait around at home] if you are getting short of breath even when you are at rest.

2. Difficulty Sleeping at Night


You may find it very difficult to sleep as you lie flat on your back. Due to gravity, the fluid in your lungs is more greatly dispersed across your lungs once you lie down. Propping up against pillows may alleviate some of this discomfort.

You should:

• Contact your doctor and be evaluated if you find yourself reaching for three or more pillows to prop yourself up to sleep comfortably. Some people with heart failure find themselves going to bed practically sitting up!

3. Rapid Weight Gain (Gaining >3 Pounds Over a Couple Days)


The weight gain in not an increase in fat. Many of those with heart failure will experience changes in weight due to something known as fluid accumulation (congestion). This buildup of fluids within blood vessels eventually leads fluids to escape to surrounding tissues.

You should:

• Weigh yourself at the same time every day if you're diagnosed with heart failure.

• Contact your doctor if you gain more than three pounds over the course of a couple days. Especially if it's not due to a poor diet/nonphysical lifestyle.

4. Swelling in Your Feet and Legs


Areas where fluid will accumulate include the legs and feet. The swelling of these extremities is due to the combination of poor circulation and gravity's effects on the fluid. Though this goes hand-in-hand with heart failure, it should not be the only symptom you should be looking toward. Sometimes (especially in older patients) it's 'normal' to notice mild swelling as the day goes on. This could be related to the small valves in your veins not working as well as you age.

You should:

• Alert your doctor if the swelling in your feet and legs continues to get worse.

5. Abdominal Swelling


Another area where fluid accumulation can occur is the abdomen. You might feel some pain and discomfort due to the congestion of the liver and digestive tract.

You should:

• Restrict your dietary salt intake.

• Reduce alcohol consumption.

• Monitor fluid levels as directed by your doctor.

6. Persistent Cough and Wheezing


Another by-product of lung congestion is the presence of a persistent cough and/or wheezing.

You should:

• Contact your doctor if your coughing/wheezing worsens and it starts affecting your breathing.

• Make the lifestyle change to stop smoking (if you still are) at the diagnosis of your heart failure.

7. Pink, Foamy Mucus


Severe fluid accumulation in the lungs will result in the coughing up of a pink, frothy mucus.

You should:

• As mentioned previously, you should contact your doctor if the coughing and wheezing worsens and affects your breathing.

8. Decreased Energy


Those who have heart failure are more likely to feel tired and fatigued. With the reduced efficiency of the heart, blood isn't properly pumped to the entire body. The body directs blood to vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys instead of the muscles in your limbs. Additionally, the lack of blood flow also reduces the efficiency of waste product removal.

You should:

• Maintain a moderate exercise regimen, such as taking a brisk walk on a regular basis.

• Make your doctor aware if your energy level begins to get worse.

9. Nausea or Loss of Appetite


Once again, congestion plays a role in the experience of nausea or loss of appetite. The fluid accumulation surrounding the liver and the intestines stresses the digestive system.

You should:

• Notify your doctor if there is a noticeable change in your appetite or digestion.

10. Dizziness or Loss of Consciousness


Those with heart failure are unable to properly pump blood to the entire body. If the brain is one of these organs where insufficient blood is supplied, you will experience dizziness, lightheadedness, and even possibly loss of consciousness.

You should:

• Seek proper medical attention if you have experienced a loss of consciousness.

11. Confusion or Impaired Thinking


This particular symptom may not be personally recognized. A caregiver or loved one is more likely to notice you are experiencing memory loss or confusion. This is caused by a combination of the lack of blood flow to brain and low levels of sodium in the blood.

You should:

• Make your doctor aware that you're experiencing these moments of confusion or impaired thinking at your next appointment.

*Some of these symptoms may be frequent side effects of medicine. See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms associated with heart failure — not only to diagnose your condition, but also to rule out other causes for your symptoms. All medical facts were consulted with Natasha Fonseka, M.D.

Don't let heart failure catch you off guard. Find out more about these symptoms from Novartis at Keep It Pumping.

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