Congestive heart failure is a severe condition that requires treatment from a doctor. Warning signs and symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing or wheezing, tiredness, chest pain, swelling, and more.

Heart failure causes the heart to become less able to move blood around the body. The heart increasingly receives more blood than it can pump out, which can cause congestion. The heart tries to compensate by beating faster and expanding in size.

However, these effects mean that the heart can no longer pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the organs. This affects the functioning of the organs and causes a range of symptoms.

This article discusses the signs and symptoms of heart failure, as well as the causes, risk factors, and complications.

A person with their hands on their chest near their heart. Signs of congestive heart failure can include chest pain and an irregular heartbeat.Share on Pinterest
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Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure. When experiencing shortness of breath, people find breathing uncomfortable or insufficient.

This can result from blood building up in the veins that return blood from the lungs to the heart, causing fluid to leak into the lungs.

Some people may experience other symptoms as a result of shortness of breath, such as:

People may experience shortness of breath during activity, while at rest, or while sleeping. Some factors, such as intense physical activity, could trigger or worsen shortness of breath.

Some people may experience sudden breathlessness that will pass. In other cases, someone may feel persistent breathlessness, with the symptoms present most of the time.

Heart failure can cause someone to cough or wheeze. The coughing and wheezing are typically due to the same fluid buildup that causes shortness of breath.

These symptoms can range from mild to severe. In severe cases, someone may cough up blood or white mucus.

The cough may sound wet as a result of fluid building up and leaking into the lungs.

Learn more about congestive heart failure and coughing.

Heart failure can also cause chest pain or discomfort, which doctors refer to as angina. The chest pain or pressure may be due to breathing difficulties from the fluid buildup in the lungs.

This occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood and causes pressure or tightening in the chest.

The pain can spread to other areas, such as the neck and jaw. Some people experience temporary and sudden pain, while others experience repeated episodes.

Swelling around the body, or edema, is another possible symptom of heart failure.

Edema can occur because blood flowing out of the heart slows down in people with heart failure. This means that veins become congested and fluid can build up in body tissues.

The kidneys become less effective at removing sodium and water from the body, which also contributes to fluid buildup.

This can cause swelling in the:

  • feet
  • ankles
  • legs
  • stomach

A person may also experience weight gain.

Learn more about heart failure and swollen feet.

People with heart failure may experience heart palpitations, or arrhythmias. These can feel like the heart is beating:

  • louder
  • faster
  • in a different rhythm than usual

Heart palpitations occur when the heart reacts to the inability to pump blood around the body effectively. This can be due to the heart beating faster or growing in size and strength to compensate for the condition.

Heart failure may cause people to feel unusually tired or weak when performing daily activities such as climbing stairs.

As heart failure worsens, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood around the body. The body compensates for the insufficient blood supply by diverting blood to the heart and brain from the limbs and less critical organs.

The diversion of blood to the heart and brain causes people to feel weak, particularly in the arms and legs.

Learn more about the causes of fatigue.

Heart failure can also cause a lack of appetite and feelings of nausea. Nausea is an uneasy or discomforting feeling in the stomach that sometimes leads to vomiting. It can occur regardless of whether someone is eating.

People with heart failure may experience nausea or a loss of appetite due to the lack of blood flowing to the digestive system and liver. The lack of oxygen can cause congestion in these systems and make someone feel full or nauseated.

The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, which occurs when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The plaque buildup causes the arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow to the heart.

Other possible causes of heart failure include conditions that can damage the heart muscles, such as:

Habits such as the following can also increase the risk of heart failure:

  • smoking
  • consuming foods high in fat, sodium, and cholesterol
  • not getting enough regular physical activity or exercise
  • consuming excessive amounts of alcohol

Heart failure is a serious condition that can cause complications if a person does not receive early and effective treatment.

The possible complications include:

  • irregular heart rhythm
  • blood clots
  • liver or kidney damage or failure
  • pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup in the lungs
  • severe breathing problems

Contacting a doctor as soon as a person has concerns about congestive heart failure can help reduce the risk of complications.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of heart failure should consult a doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, swelling around the body, and heart palpitations.

Early detection and treatment can help improve a person’s outlook and progression of the condition.

Here are some frequently asked questions about heart failure.

What are the beginning stages of congestive heart failure?

In the early stages of congestive heart failure, a person may experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness.

Learn about the stages of congestive heart failure.

Does congestive heart failure go away?

Long-term treatment may help to stabilize or reverse an individual’s condition.

Contacting a doctor as soon as a person experiences symptoms of congestive heart failure and receiving an accurate diagnosis can help manage the condition to reduce the risk of complications.

What is the average lifespan of a person with congestive heart failure?

The average life expectancy for a person with congestive heart failure can vary. According to a 2019 meta-analysis, the 5-year survival rate for people under the age of 65 years was 78.8%, while the 5-year survival rate for people aged 75 years and over was 49.5%.

The 1-year survival rate was 91.5% for people under the age of 65 years and 83.3% for people aged 75 years and over.

Learn more about congestive heart failure and life expectancy.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood around the body effectively. It causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling. Heart failure is typically the result of coronary artery disease.

Anyone with symptoms of heart failure should contact a doctor as soon as possible. The condition is serious and requires medical attention to avoid complications.