Heart Failure

Disease database

Heart failure is a serious medical condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It can be a chronic condition, meaning it develops slowly over time, or it can be acute, occurring suddenly. Heart failure can affect people of all ages, but it is more common in older adults.

Shortness of Breath

One of the most common symptoms of heart failure is shortness of breath. This can occur during physical activity or even at rest. The heart’s inability to pump enough blood causes fluid to build up in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. People with heart failure may feel like they are constantly out of breath or have a persistent cough.


Feeling tired or fatigued is another common symptom of heart failure. The heart is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood to the body’s organs and tissues. When it is not functioning properly, the body does not receive enough oxygen, leading to fatigue and weakness.


A persistent cough can be a sign of heart failure. The buildup of fluid in the lungs can cause a cough that produces white or pink-tinged phlegm. This cough may worsen at night or when lying down.

Rapid or Irregular Heartbeat

Heart failure can cause the heart to beat faster or in an irregular rhythm. This can lead to palpitations, a sensation of the heart pounding or fluttering in the chest. It is important to note that not all palpitations are a sign of heart failure, but they should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Swollen Ankles or Legs

Fluid retention is a common symptom of heart failure. This can cause swelling in the ankles, legs, and sometimes the abdomen. The swelling may be more noticeable at the end of the day or after prolonged periods of sitting or standing.

Difficulty Concentrating

Heart failure can affect cognitive function, making it difficult to concentrate or remember things. This can be due to a decrease in blood flow to the brain or the buildup of toxins in the body.

Increased Need to Urinate at Night

Heart failure can cause the kidneys to retain fluid, leading to increased urination, especially at night. This can disrupt sleep and contribute to feelings of fatigue.

Sudden Weight Gain or Loss

Unexplained weight gain or loss can be a sign of heart failure. Fluid retention can cause rapid weight gain, while a decrease in appetite and fluid buildup in the abdomen can lead to weight loss.

Chest Pain or Pressure

Chest pain or pressure is a symptom that should not be ignored. While not everyone with heart failure experiences chest pain, it can be a sign of a heart attack or angina, which require immediate medical attention.

Treatment and Management

While heart failure cannot be cured, it can be managed with proper medical care and lifestyle changes. Here are some tips for managing heart failure:

  • Take medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet low in sodium and saturated fats.
  • Monitor your weight daily and report any sudden changes to your healthcare provider.
  • Engage in regular physical activity as recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
  • Stay up to date with vaccinations, including the flu and pneumonia vaccines.

It is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan for managing heart failure. Regular check-ups and monitoring of symptoms are essential to ensure the condition is well-managed and to prevent complications.

In conclusion, heart failure is a serious condition that requires ongoing medical care. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt treatment is crucial for managing the condition and improving quality of life. By following a comprehensive treatment plan and making necessary lifestyle changes, individuals with heart failure can lead fulfilling lives and minimize the impact of the disease on their overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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