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Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure
Swollen Ankles or Legs

Swollen ankles or legs, known as peripheral edema, may be a result of right-sided heart failure since fluid cannot be pumped to the lungs at an efficient rate. In right-sided heart failure, fluid backs up in the veins, leaks out of capillaries and accumulates in tissues. Also, a decrease in blood flow to the kidneys can lead to an increase in fluid retention. Diuretics are often prescribed to get rid of this excess fluid and reduce the strain on the heart.

In the absence of heart failure, peripheral edema may commonly be due to obesity or venous insufficiency with stretched venous valves.


Angina is chest or arm discomfort due to a blockage of the coronary arteries. Heart cells typically do not get enough oxygen when blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced. Often, angina comes on with exertion and is relieved by rest. This is because your heart may have an adequate blood supply when it is not working very hard but not when under stress. Other common causes of chest pain unrelated to the heart are chest muscle, bone or joint disease, and acid in the esophagus.

Weight Gain or Loss

Excess fluid in the body may cause an increase in weight. Similarly, when excess fluid is excreted, your weight may fall. Weight increases by about two pounds for each extra quart of fluid. You may notice that your weight has risen before you notice swelling of the ankles or extremities. Inform your doctor of changes of more than five pounds.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath can be caused by congestion in the lungs. This congestion is known as pulmonary edema. One sign to watch out for is whether your shortness of breath is worse when you lay flat. Orthopnea is the shortness of breath which occurs when blood kept in the legs by gravity returns to the chest when you lay down.

Shortness of breath can also occur at night. Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly at night is known as paroxysmal (par-ox-iz-mal) nocturnal dyspnea.


Fatigue is often attributed to getting old or being out of shape. However, if this condition persists for long periods of time, it may be the result of heart failure. Sluggishness may be the result of your organs not getting enough oxygen. You may feel as tired after getting up in the morning as you did when you went to bed. Let your doctor know if this happens on a regular basis.

Loss of Appetite

Fluid accumulation in the digestive organs can cause you to feel full. You may also feel bloated. You may want to try eating smaller more frequent meals instead of the traditional three large meals a day.

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