10 Early Warning Signs of Heart Failure Experts Want You to Know
Keep your eye out for these common early warning signs so you can address them ASAP.
Heart failure happens when the heart is unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in your body. While it doesn't mean that the heart has stopped beating, heart failure is considered a very serious condition and currently affects about 6.2 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The good news is that you can lower your risk of heart failure by making healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to your weight, diet, alcohol and tobacco use, and exercise habits. There are also medications that help treat heart failure if you are diagnosed with the condition, though it's obviously best to do whatever you can to avoid the disease if at all possible. And one of the best places to start is to understand the warning signs you should be on the lookout for. With that said, read on to discover 10 early warning signs of heart failure that doctors and other health experts want you to know.
According to Harvard Health, being overly tired can be a sign of heart trouble. "When the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body's energy needs, a general feeling of tiredness or fatigue sets in," the experts there say.
Irregular heart beat
Rapid or irregular heart beat is never something to ignore. It's normal for your heart to beat faster when you're excited or nervous, but if the symptom is persistent and comes on suddenly, it may be something more serious.
"In most cases, it's caused by something that's easy to fix, like too much caffeine or not enough sleep," Vincent Bufalino, MD, an American Heart Association (AHA) spokesman, told WebMD. "But occasionally, it could signal a condition called atrial fibrillation that needs treatment. So ask your doctor to check it out."
Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
If you notice unexplained swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet, you could have edema, which the Cleveland Clinic defines as "swelling that is caused by fluid trapped in your body's tissues." Though not always, edema is often caused by congestive heart failure because your heart lacks the pumping power to force used blood back up from your lower extremities.
One of the most common signs of heart failure is some kind of pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest.
"Everyone has a different word for that feeling," Charles Chambers, MD, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute, told WebMD. "Some people say it's like an elephant is sitting on them. Other people say it's like a pinching or burning."
Even if the pain is temporary, you should consult your doctor, Chambers says. And if the symptom is severe or doesn't subside after a few minutes, you should call 911 because you may be having a heart attack.
Sudden or rapid weight gain
In addition to fluid building up in your extremities, edema can occur throughout the entire body, which may result in sudden, unexplained weight gain. This is not only a common sign of both acute and chronic heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic, but being overweight puts added stress on your heart and can be a common cause of heart problems such as stroke and heart attack.
Limited ability to exercise or be active
Are you unable to complete physical tasks that used to be a breeze or not go as hard at the gym as you used to, but don't know why? If so, it's probably best to consult your doctor because this could be the sign of a serious health problem.
"People with heart failure are often unable to do their normal activities because they become easily tired and short of breath," the experts at Harvard Health say.
Lack of appetite and nausea
Feeling sick to your stomach or nauseous may sound like, well, a stomach problem, but both are actually classic early signs of heart failure. Why do they happen? According to the AHA, the reason is relatively simple: "The digestive system receives less blood, causing problems with digestion."
Confusion or difficulty concentrating
According to the AHA: "Changing levels of certain substances in the blood, such as sodium, can cause confusion." This may present as memory loss or feelings of disorientation, both signs that may be noticed by a caregiver or relative before the actual patient. Either way, these are signs of heart failure—as well as other serious medical conditions—and should be addressed with a doctor as soon as possible.
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In addition to fluid building up in the legs, ankles, or feet, fluid building up in the lungs is another early sign of heart failure, according to the experts at Harvard Health. When this happens, patients may experience noticeable and persistent coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Any of these symptoms should be addressed with your doctor as soon as they are noticed.
Shortness of breath
Experiencing shortness of breath when engaging in strenuous physical activity is often perfectly normal. However if the symptom happens more easily and frequently than it used to, it could be a cause for concern. And if it happens during an inactive state such as sitting or lying down, it should be addressed with your doctor immediately. The Mayo Clinic identifies "shortness of breath with activity or when lying down" as one of the most common signs of both chronic and acute heart failure.