While there are certain symptoms that people with
heart failure experience more commonly, there are many
other symptoms that heart failure can cause. These symptoms are typically less
common because they often result from more severe heart failure, when the body
can no longer compensate properly for the failing heart.
The first table summarizes congestive symptoms that result from fluid
leaking into the lungs and the rest of the body. The second table summarizes
symptoms that occur because the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet
the body's needs, which causes poor blood circulation. After the tables is a
more detailed explanation of each symptom.
Tell your doctor if you experience
any of these less common symptoms.
Symptoms of congestion
What causes it?
Most commonly a dry cough (without
More severe heart failure can cause a wet cough—coughing up
pink, frothy fluid.
Some people experience wheezing, similar to
that caused by asthma.
Backup of blood and fluid into the lungs
Abdominal bloating can result from fluid backup in
Liver, which makes your abdomen feel
swollen or tender.
Stomach, which causes decreased appetite,
bloating, and nausea.
Intestines, which causes decreased appetite
and poor absorption of medicines and food.
Abdominal cavity ascites, tenderness, or fever can indicate
an infection in this fluid buildup.
Backup of blood and fluid into different parts of
the gastrointestinal system or abdominal cavity
Symptoms of poor blood circulation
What happens? What does it feel like?
Results from poor circulation to the:
Less frequent urination
During the day, you may urinate less
often than you normally do (because of poor blood flow to the
At night, you may urinate more often than you normally do
(because fluid in the legs reenters the circulation when you lie down).
Feeling cold in arms, legs, hands, and feet
May feel cold due to poor
Arms, legs, hands, and feet
Sensation of dizziness or mild
Inability to think
Problems with memory or ability to understand
Fainting or passing out
Losing consciousness suddenly (blacking
Inability to achieve an erection
How does heart failure make the arms, legs, hands, and feet feel cold? People with heart failure may find that they often feel
cold in their arms, hands, feet, and legs (the extremities). This happens
because the body is circulating most of the available blood to the brain and
other vital organs to compensate for the failing heart's inability to pump
enough blood to the entire body. As a result, the extremities get less blood,
and without blood to warm them, these parts of your body feel cold.
These symptoms usually occur only in people with chronic, severe
heart failure. If your extremities suddenly become cold and clammy, and other
symptoms of heart failure, such as fluid buildup (edema), mental confusion, or
decreased urine, are becoming worse, you may be going into shock. Shock
develops when the amount of blood your heart is pumping becomes critically low.
If you experience signs of shock, you will need immediate medical
What happens when the brain doesn't get enough blood? When the body can no longer compensate adequately for the failing
heart, blood circulation to the brain will start to drop. Without enough blood,
the brain does not function well, resulting in lightheadedness and/or mental
Lightheadedness is a sensation of dizziness or mild disorientation.
People with heart failure may also experience lightheadedness as a side effect
of certain medications.
When blood flow to the brain becomes critically low, people with
heart failure may experience an inability to think clearly. Specifically, they
may have problems with their memory or with understanding language. This can be
particularly dangerous because it can prevent people with severe symptoms from
being able to report them to their doctor.
Mental confusion resulting from heart failure means that the amount
of blood the heart is pumping is critically low. Typically, this level of
impairment occurs in people who are already hospitalized with heart failure. If
this is not the case, someone with heart failure who experiences mental
confusion needs to see a doctor immediately.
What causes impotence in men who have heart failure?
Some men with heart failure cannot achieve an erection (impotence). The specific cause of this impotence can vary.
In some cases it results from low blood flow to the genitals caused by the
failing heart. In other cases, it can happen as a result of the buildup of
plaque (atherosclerosis) in the arteries that supply blood to the genitals.
Atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (coronary artery
disease) is often what causes heart failure in men who experience impotence.
Also, impotence can be the result of depression or other
psychological factors related to heart failure. Certain medicines used to
treat heart failure may also cause impotence.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.