Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms

  • Medical Author:
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What are congestive heart failure symptoms?

The symptoms of congestive heart failure vary among individuals according to the particular organ systems involved and depending on the degree to which the rest of the body has "compensated" for the heart muscle weakness.

  • An early symptom of congestive heart failure is fatigue. While fatigue is a sensitive indicator of possible underlying congestive heart failure, it is obviously a nonspecific symptom that may be caused by many other conditions. The person's ability to exercise may also diminish. Affected individuals may not even sense this decrease and they may subconsciously reduce their activities to accommodate this limitation.
  • As the body becomes overloaded with fluid from congestive heart failure, swelling (edema) of the ankles and legs or abdomen may be noticed. This can be referred to as "right-sided heart failure" as failure of the right-sided heart chambers to pump venous blood to the lungs to acquire oxygen results in buildup of this fluid in gravity-dependent areas such as in the legs. The most common cause of this is longstanding failure of the left heart, which may lead to secondary failure of the right heart. Right-sided heart failure can also be caused by severe lung disease (referred to as "cor pulmonale"), or by intrinsic disease of the right heart muscle (less common).
  • In addition, fluid may accumulate in the lungs, thereby causing shortness of breath, particularly during exercise and when lying flat. In some instances, patients are awakened at night, gasping for air.
  • Some may be unable to sleep unless sitting upright.
  • The extra fluid in the body may cause increased urination, particularly at night.
  • Accumulation of fluid in the liver and intestines may cause nausea, abdominal pain, and decreased appetite.

Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease

REFERENCES:

Amsterdam EA. Revised American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines for the management of heart failure.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Congestive Heart Failure. Prev Cardiol. 2005 Fall;8(4):254, 256.

Heart Failure Society Of America. Evaluation and management of patients with acute decompensated heart failure. J Card Fail. 2006 Feb;12(1):e86-e103. Review.

Larson LW, Gerbert DA, Herman LM, Leger MM, McNellis R, O'Donoghue DL, Ulshafer C, Van Dyke EM; American College of Cardiology; American Heart Association. ACC/AHA 2005 guideline update: chronic heart failure in the adult. JAAPA. 2006 Apr;19(4):53-6.

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