Man having heart failure

Since the American Heart Association designates February as National Heart Month, let’s look at heart failure, a heart condition that is often misunderstood.  Heart failure is not a sudden heart attack, and it doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working.  What it does mean is that the heart is not pumping blood properly through the body.  This is a chronic condition that usually worsens over time and can be life threatening.

The heart’s job is to pump blood through the body so that oxygen and nutrients can be delivered to the cells.  When the heart becomes weakened, it no longer pumps efficiently.  It can no longer keep up with its workload.  This makes it hard for a person to manage normal daily activities such as walking or climbing stairs.  There are three types of heart failure- left-sided heart failure, right-sided heart failure, and congestive heart failure.

Symptoms of heart failure should not be ignored.  When heart failure is diagnosed and treated in the early stages, the patient will enjoy a better quality of life.  Warning signs of heart failure include the following symptoms.

Shortness of breath

When blood backs up in the pulmonary veins, fluid may leak into the lungs.  The resulting shortness of breath may occur during periods of activity but may also happen at rest or while sleeping.


Tiredness or fatigue can make simple activities difficult.  The heart is not pumping enough blood to meet the needs of the body.

SwellingElderly woman coughing as sign of heart failure

A build up of fluid in the body is called edema.  Fluid retention may cause swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen.  The patient may gain weight.

Coughing or wheezing

This is the result of fluid collecting in the lungs.  It may become chronic.

Digestive problems

When the digestive system receives less blood, symptoms like nausea or loss of appetite may occur.


Memory loss, confusion, and disorientation may occur when levels of sodium and other substances in the blood are lacking.

Increased heart rate

As the heart tries to beat faster to keep up with the body’s demands, the patient may experience heart palpitations or a racing heart.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you are experiencing these types of warning signs.  Treatments for heart failure are available.  They include lifestyle changes, medications, implantable devices, and surgery.