What Are Common Warning Signs of Heart Failure?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October, 2019

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure (HF), your healthcare team will teach you how to manage your condition. Each person experiences heart failure differently. It is important to know what your specific symptoms are, recognize changes in your condition, and when to call your healthcare provider.1-2 If you experience changes in your condition or the sudden development of any of these warning signs, call your healthcare provider. Don’t delay.2

There are general signs of heart failure that are important to know. If you suspect that you may be experiencing heart failure, you should schedule a physical with your primary care provider to assess what may be going on. A good diagnosis is dependent on good symptom reporting. Make note of how you are feeling and when you are experiencing symptoms.

General symptoms

General HF symptoms include:

  • Dyspnea - shortness of breath with activity (exertion) or when lying down
  • Fatigue and weakness - feeling generally tired and having difficulty keeping up with everyday activities
  • Persistent cough or wheezing – producing white or pink blood-tinged mucus
  • Edema - swelling in the abdomen or lower extremities including the legs, ankles, and feet due to a buildup of extra fluid
  • Orthopnea - shortness of breath when lying down
  • Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea (PND) - waking up at night gasping for breath
  • Palpitations Arrhythmia – experiencing palpitations,- feeling a fluttering in your chest, or having a rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Lack of appetite and nausea – feeling full or sick to your stomach
  • Confusion – having difficulty concentrating or disorientation.1-3

Worsening symptoms

There are some specific warning signs that occur when heart failure is worsening, including:2

  • Rapid weight gain – 2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week from fluid retention
  • Increased swelling in the feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath at rest (not related to exercise or activity)
  • Waking up short of breath
  • Increased confusion including memory loss
  • Discomfort or trouble breathing when lying flat
  • Persistent cough or wheezing – producing white or pink blood-tinged mucus
  • Increased and constant sense of fatigue or tiredness

Managing symptoms

Managing heart failure is a team effort. It involves your healthcare team, your family, and you. Keeping track of your symptoms and noting any changes in your condition can help you recognize the warning signs of worsening heart failure.4 Your healthcare team can monitor your condition and can make appropriate medication changes as needed to improve your symptoms. They can also recommend lifestyle changes that can help control your condition.4 Making small changes in your lifestyle and treatment plan can help you live a long and healthy life.

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