How to Recognize Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart valves are no longer functioning correctly. This prevents blood from being pumped around the body and from being delivered to the essential organs. If you are experiencing congenital heart failure, it is essential that you seek medical attention immediately – therefore, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of CHF as early as possible.


Look for shortness of breath. Shortness of breath is one of the hallmark symptoms of congestive heart failure (particularly left-sided heart failure). This shortness of breath may occur during physical activity, at rest or while sleeping.

  • This shortness of breath may be caused by fluid in the lungs, or by the inability of the heart to pump adequate amounts of blood during physical activity.


Take note of any coughing or wheezing. In addition to the shortness of breath, you may be prone to fits of coughing and experience wheezing or crackling sensations in the lungs when lying down.


Look for a distended jugular vein. One visible symptom of CHF is when the jugular vein becomes distended when you are in a semi-upright position. The vein may pulsate as your heart beats.


See if you have any swelling in the ankles, legs or feet. Swelling may occur in the legs, feet and ankles as a result of poor circulation, which causes fluid to accumulate in the lower extremities. This is known as peripheral edema.

  • One of the telltale signs that your ankles and feet are swollen is when your shoes and socks feel tight.


Identify any symptoms of liver enlargement. Hepatomegaly (an enlarged liver caused by the accumulation of fluid) is often a symptom of CHF. Signs of an enlarged liver include abdominal swelling and nausea


Look for a swollen abdomen. Along with the liver, fluid may accumulate in the abdomen as a result of CHF. This is known as ascites. Ascites leads to abdominal distension (or swelling) and feeling bloated and nauseous.


Think about whether you feel too warm. Feeling too warm (even though everyone else in the room feels fine) may be a symptom of CHF. This is because poor circulation prevents the release of body heat.

  • However, even if you feel too warm, the skin on your hands and feet may feel pale and cool, as these parts of your body are not receiving enough blood.


Pay attention to feelings of weakness or dizziness. Another symptom of CHF is fatigue and dizziness following physical activity, which may force you to sit or lie down. Again, these symptoms occur as a result of poor blood circulation.


Take note of any mental confusion. Another possible symptom of CHF is mental confusion brought on by inadequate circulation of blood to and from the brain. This mental confusion may manifest itself as anxiety, irritability, depression and/or in difficulty concentrating or remembering.


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