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four women having trouble with fatigue

Community Shares: The Invisible Symptoms of Heart Failure

Too often, people do not understand the medical symptoms they cannot see. Since most of the symptoms of heart failure are invisible, it is often difficult for others to understand and sympathize with those who are living with the condition.

To learn more about how community members handle this lack of awareness, we asked members to answer: “Which invisible symptoms of heart failure are the hardest for others to understand?”

More than 175 community members shared. Here is what was said.

Being tired

Sheer tiredness.”

The #1 answer to the question was exhaustion. With heart failure, the heart is struggling to pump enough oxygen throughout the body to give you enough energy to walk, climb stairs, and do everything else you normally do. It makes sense that a lack of oxygen would slow you down.

“Sheer tiredness and inability to do all that you want to do. I have always been active, but it took me 2 days to just clean my house.”

“Tired all the time, not able to clean the house in 1 day. I am not lazy. I just run out of energy, and have to stop and take a nap.”

“Being too tired to participate in gatherings.”

For many people, fatigue often means a change in lifestyle. You are finding that you cannot squeeze in as much work or as many social events as you had before. Some of you shared that you quit making social plans altogether because you were sick of canceling. This is tough since everyone needs a social connection.

One possible solution is to talk to friends and remind them that your fatigue is very real. Let them know that you may not be up for a big group event that is far away, but you would be able to invite them over for tea or meet up to sit on a porch for a conversation.

“Being too tired to participate in gatherings.”

“Sometimes it is tough just getting through a full work week. I have learned to not make plans because I have let people down with breaking them.”

“It is so hard for others to understand that I just cannot keep up anymore.”

Since you may look “fine,” many people do not understand that you are not feeling well. They cannot see your fatigue, so they assume you should be able to do everything you used to do before your diagnosis. When you cannot, sometimes people accuse you of being lazy. This is a tough situation to be in.

Many people may need frequent reminders that you have heart failure and that your condition is real. You might need to blunt and say that you look OK, but your heart is having problems that people cannot see. If you feel comfortable doing so, it can help to ask others to cut you some slack and show some understanding.

“Fatigue. I have actually had people say, ‘You were fine a minute ago’ or ‘You did not do anything all day, how are you tired?’”

“Exhaustion. It is so hard for others to understand that I just cannot keep up anymore.”

“The fatigue! Everyone acts like you are SO lazy.”

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath.”

The second most common physical symptom was shortness of breath. When your heart is working overtime to keep your blood flowing and you are still not getting enough oxygen, you are going to feel winded. Others cannot always see this. It is okay to ask to sit down or for more time to get something finished.

“I have the shortness of breath, hard bloated stomach, weight gain, and exhaustion you all speak of.”

“Shortness of breath.”


“Feeling depressed.”

It makes sense that someone would feel depressed when dealing with a medical condition such as heart failure. It is a big change in lifestyle. You have to give some things up and make many more compromises. It may help to give yourself time and space to grieve the life you had been living before your diagnosis.

“Feeling depressed. Feeling overwhelmed by everyday duties.”

“This year I was so depressed and had anxiety. I never knew why until I just read the comments on this post.”

Thank you to everyone who shared so openly for this story. We appreciate your candor and vulnerability.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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