Health libraryBack to health library
7 warning signs of heart failure
Your heart hasn't literally failed if you have heart failure. But it isn't pumping well enough to meet your body's needs. Heart failure is a serious condition. Fortunately, treatment can help. See your doctor if you notice more than one of these symptoms—even if you haven't been diagnosed with a heart problem.
1. Shortness of breath
What you might notice: You may find it difficult to breathe when you're active or even when you're resting or lying flat. And you may wake up feeling tired, restless or anxious.
Why it happens: When your heart isn't working properly, blood can back up in the vessels leading from the lungs to the heart, causing fluid to leak into the lungs.
2. Persistent coughing or wheezing
What you might notice: Coughing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.
Why it happens: This can be a sign that fluid is building up in your lungs.
3. Swelling (Edema)
What you might notice: Swelling in your feet, ankles, legs or stomach or unexplained weight gain. You might notice swelling by feeling that your shoes or pants are too tight.
Why it happens: When blood flow from your heart is too slow, blood backs up in the veins. This forces fluid into other tissues.
What you might notice: You may feel tired all the time and have trouble with everyday activities like walking and climbing stairs.
Why it happens: Fatigue is a sign that the muscles in your arms and legs aren't getting the blood they need to function properly because your body is prioritizing getting blood to the heart and brain.
5. Loss of appetite or nausea
What you might notice: You may feel full or sick to your stomach.
Why it happens: The digestive process is disrupted because the digestive system isn't receiving enough blood.
6. Confusion or impaired thinking
What you might notice: Memory loss and a feeling of disorientation. A caregiver or loved one might notice this before you do.
Why it happens: Heart failure can change levels of sodium and other substances in the blood, which can result in reduced blood flow to the brain.
7. Heart palpitations
What you might notice: You may feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.
Why it happens: When your heart isn't pumping well, it tries to compensate by beating faster.
Help your heart work better
If you have heart failure, a cardiac rehabilitation program can help you feel better and live your best life.
- American Heart Association. “Heart Failure Signs and Symptoms.” https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/warning-signs-of-heart-failure.
- American Heart Association. What is Heart Failure? https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heart-failure.
The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.