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The moment you hear the words “heart failure” everyone grasps the seriousness of the situation and more often than not jumps to the conclusion that the heart has stopped working. But, heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped functioning and that nothing can be done. It means that at this juncture, the heart is not pumping blood as efficiently as it should be or as expected. 

The heart pumps blood, helping to transport oxygen to all the organs in the body. A weakened heart is unable to perform this function properly and, as a result, it affects your everyday activities[1]. Here we will try and gain a better understanding of heart failure and learn to identify its symptoms so that you can take better care of yourself and seek help when needed.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a result of some damage to the heart muscle that decreases its ability to pump blood effectively, and it fails to meet the body’s needs in terms of oxygen supply because of the less than optimal blood circulation[2].

Your heart tries to make up for this deficit either by:

  • Stressing the heart muscles
  • Developing more muscle mass
  • Pumping blood faster

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

Among many other complications, this can lead to heart failure that can be a result of the different functions of the heart giving out because of stress or damage leading to left-sided heart failure or right-sided heart failure[3].

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

Heart failure is characterised by different symptoms that may affect your daily activities[1]. The body’s compensatory mechanisms to adjust the stress on the heart give rise to the following warning symptoms. It may be difficult to identify if the symptoms are grave or not, hence it’s important you contact your doctor if you experience any of the following[4]:

  • 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. You must also make note if you sense discomfort or feel like having a swollen or bloated stomach
  • Confusion: Changes in the sodium concentration in the blood causes confusion, memory loss or disorientation. Consult your doctor if you have sudden bouts of dizziness, depression or sadness
  • Increased heart rate: The heart beats faster to make up for the loss in its pumping capacity. 
  • Another thing that you need to keep an eye out for is your weight. Monitor your body weight regularly, as one of the symptoms include a sudden increase in body weight.

It’s not all bad news, so don’t worry. 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 and manage your condition better[3].

So, please do not ignore these symptoms. They can sometimes gradually worsen, causing respiratory distress and even kidney failure. But, there are treatment plans that can help relieve the symptoms, and in turn help, you enjoy the gift that is life[3].


  1. American Heart Association. What is heart failure? [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. 5 warning signs of early heart failure – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health. Harvard Health; 2016 [cited 2020 Apr 26]. Available from:
  3. American Heart Association. Types of heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:
  4. American Heart Association. Warning signs of heart failure [Internet]. [updated 2017 May 31; cited 2020 Jan 9]. Available from:

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for patient awareness only. This has been written by qualified experts and scientifically validated by them. Wellthy or it’s partners/subsidiaries shall not be responsible for the content provided by these experts. This article is not a replacement for a doctor’s advice. Please always check with your doctor before trying anything suggested on this article/website.