Symptoms of congestive heart failure
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Heart failure is a very serious sounding term that makes one think that the heart has stopped working. However, heart failure means that the heart is not performing its normal action of pumping blood as efficiently as expected. There are different types of heart failure, congestive heart failure (CHF) being one of the subtypes. However, in many cases, CHF maybe used interchangeably with heart failure.[1]

A normal, healthy heart transports oxygen to all the organs in the body. A weakened heart is unable to perform the function properly and, as a result, it affects your everyday activities.[1] This article will help you understand the types of heart failure and identify the signs and symptoms of CHF, enabling you to take proper care of your heart.

What happens in heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic condition where the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood. Therefore, the heart is unable to meet the demands of the body.

Your heart tries to make up for this deficit either by:[1]
  • Stressing the heart muscles
  • Developing more muscle mass
  • Pumping blood faster

No matter how the heart compensates, it does not solve the problems of heart failure and the heart begins to give you warning signs.[1]

What is congestive heart failure?

The types of heart failure are as follows:[2]
  • Left-sided heart failure
  • Right-sided heart failure
  • Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure is a severe condition in which the heart muscles have a decreased ability to contract. As a result, the blood flowing out of the heart slows down, and the blood flowing into the heart gets backed up in the body tissues, causing congestion in the tissues.[2,3] The signs of congestion predominate in CHF.[4] The congestion further produces different signs and symptoms as the body tries to compensate for the load on the heart.

What are the warning signs of congestive heart failure, and why do they occur?

Congestive heart failure is characterised by different symptoms that may affect your daily activities.[1] A single symptom occurring at a time may not be a reason for concern. However, if you experience more than one symptom at a time, you should immediately seek medical advice.[5] The body’s compensatory mechanisms to adjust the stress on the heart give rise to the following warning symptoms:[5]

  • Breathlessness at rest: Under normal conditions, the pulmonary veins return the blood from the lungs to the heart. However, with a weakened heart, the blood backs up in the veins. As a result, fluid leaks into the lungs, causing breathlessness.
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing: Due to the build-up of fluid in the lungs, there is constant coughing or wheezing.
  • Swelling on the hands, feet and ankles: As the blood flows out of the heart slowly, the blood returning to the heart builds up in the tissues. The kidneys are unable to remove the excess fluid from the body. As a result, fluid accumulates in the hands, feet and ankles, leading to swelling.
  • Tiredness: The heart is unable to meet the body’s blood demand. As a result, the muscles in the limbs are devoid of sufficient blood, which causes fatigue.
  • Lack of appetite: Inadequate blood supply from heart affects digestion, giving a feeling of stomach fullness.
  • Confusion: Changes in the sodium concentration in the blood causes confusion, memory loss or disorientation.
  • Increased heart rate: The heart beats faster to make up for the loss in its pumping capacity.

It is best not to ignore the above symptoms as they may indicate CHF. The symptoms may gradually worsen, causing respiratory distress and even kidney failure. Treatment plans aim to relieve the symptoms and help you live a good quality life.[2,3]

Medications and lifestyle changes combined with regular follow-up can help control your symptoms better. Seeking the help of a doctor to monitor and treat your present symptoms can help improve your condition and prevent worsening of the condition.[2,3]

Don’t ignore the symptoms of CHF; love and protect your heart!


  1. American Heart Association. What is heart failure? [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:
  2. American Heart Association. Types of heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Congestive heart failure: prevention, treatment and research [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from: 1/5.
  4. Johns Hopkins Diabetes Guide. Heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2013 May 22; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:
  5. American Heart Association. Warning signs of heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:

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