How you may feel - heart failure symptoms

You must tell your doctor / nurse about any new, or worsening, symptoms you may have

You must tell your doctor / nurse about any new, or worsening, symptoms you may have

The reduced blood flow in heart failure also means less blood and oxygen is being provided to all the muscles and organs in your body. This can affect your body in different ways. Typical symptoms of heart failure are:

These symptoms may appear quickly (over a few days) or develop more slowly (over weeks or even months).

Shortness of breath

  • Shortness of breath is common, especially on exertion (such as walking or climbing stairs) but can also occur when lying flat in bed. This can make you anxious, making your breathing even more difficult.
  • You may also wake up in the night short of breath, or with a dry cough. Having a cough with a lot of white frothy sputum can also cause shortness of breath, caused by the lungs becoming congested with fluid. You must let your doctor know about these symptoms.

Fluid retention / ankle swelling

  • When the heart muscle is weakened and less efficient at pumping blood around the body, fluid may accumulate in the lungs or in the ankles and legs. This is called fluid retention. Extra fluid can also gather in the tummy area.
  • Carrying extra fluid causes an increase in body weight. This is why you may be asked to weigh yourself daily and keep a record of it.
  • You must let your doctor / nurse know about any sudden weight gain. Small changes in the doses of your drugs could avoid an acute attack and a hospital admission.

Lack of energy

Pacing yourself and asking for help can both help you manage your energy levels

Pacing yourself and asking for help can both help you manage your energy levels

This can also be described as a feeling of weakness, exhaustion or fatigue. It can be overwhelming after only a small amount of activity, sometimes making it difficult to carry out every day tasks. Some of this lack of energy is caused by reduced blood flow to the muscles of the body by the heart not pumping properly.

Tips to conserve your energy:

  • Use your energy for things you really enjoy doing.
  • Pace yourself: break big jobs up into smaller more manageable pieces.
  • Tell family and friends what your needs are and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Plan rest periods in your day.

Palpitations / chest tightness or discomfort

  • This is the sensation of the heart pounding or racing in the chest and often occurs on exertion along with shortness of breath.
  • Heart failure may make your angina worse.

Other symptoms

Other ways that heart failure can affect you include:

  • Leg cramps: these are painful and distressing especially as they can be worse at night. They may be a side effect of your tablets so let your nurse or doctor know.
  • Gout: this is an inflammation of small joints such as in the feet & hands. It causes the area to be red and swollen and can be very painful.
  • Sleep disturbance: this is sometimes due to breathlessness, anxiety or sleeping too much during the day. Some people with heart failure also have a problem called sleep apnoea. If you are a heavy snorer, it sometimes feels like you stop breathing at night or fall asleep unexpectedly during the day.
  • Memory and concentration problems: this can range from difficulty with short term memory to the rarer total memory loss (amnesia).
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