Symptom: Fatigue

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2019

Fatigue can be described in a number of ways. Some think of it as extreme tiredness, others feel weary, having a lack of energy, or simply being exhausted after physical exertion.

Fatigue can be a sign of heart failure (HF). It can develop because the pumping ability of the heart is reduced, causing blood flow to be redirected to the vital organs which need it most.1-3

Less common symptoms

Heart failure has a broad array of possible symptoms, most notably swelling or fluid retention. But some people may never develop fluid retention. Some symptoms are less commonly known and often overlooked, like fatigue.2

Fatigue or any symptom that is brought on by exertion and gets better or resolves with rest might be associated with a heart condition.2

What causes fatigue

Fatigue can also be a side effect of the medications you take and/or the presence of other illnesses. The onset of new, persistent fatigue may indicate the development of heart failure.2 As the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body and the volume of oxygenated blood decreases, the body can redirect the flow to supply the vital organs, including the heart, kidneys, and brain.1,3 Less blood is then available to nourish the muscles in your arms and legs.

The decrease in blood flow also means that fewer of the body’s waste products are being removed. This can also cause a decrease in energy levels and make your muscles ache and feel tired.3

Daily activities

Fatigue can interfere with the activities you do every day.2 Cooking, doing laundry, shopping, and carrying packages can all become tasks that are too strenuous. Even walking or climbing just a few steps can feel exhausting.1 It is important to be aware of what activities cause you fatigue and if it gets worse. For example, if you usually walk to the mailbox without experiencing fatigue, but now the same walk exhausts you, make sure to let your family and healthcare team know.

There are steps you can take to improve your efficiency and conserve your energy. Your healthcare team, including physical and occupational therapists, can help you learn how to perform activities of daily living in the most energy-efficient ways. They can show you more efficient ways to get up and down from a sitting position, offer suggestions of how to work in the kitchen or laundry room with fewer movements, and other ideas that can help in your own home or workplace.3

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Exercise can help

Exercise intolerance, which is the inability to perform physical activity and exercise at a normal level, generally leads us to stop exerting ourselves. Exercise is an important component of managing heart failure. Regular exercise can build up your muscles and energy levels. Whether it's taking a daily walk or going to the gym 3-5 times a week, exercise can improve your stamina, reduce stress and improve energy.3

Always check with your physician before beginning or modifying your exercise routine.3 They can recommend the appropriate activity level for your personal condition.

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