Heart Failure: Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of CHF (congestive heart failure) are associated with the congestion that develops as fluid backs up into the lungs and leaks into the tissues. Other symptoms occur because not enough oxygen-rich blood gets to the body.

The effects of heart failure on the body depend on which side of the heart is affected.

Right-side failure

In this type of failure, the heart muscles on the right side thicken, so that the muscle becomes very relaxed (floppy).

Blood that normally enters the right side from the body begins to back up.

This blood backs up into the body and causes the veins in the body and tissues surrounding
the heart to swell.

Symptoms of right-side heart failure include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fluid build-up, first in the feet, next in the ankles and legs, and finally in the lower belly (abdomen)
  • Liver enlargement
  • Weight gain, despite having less appetite
  • Shortness of breath

Left-side failure

Failure on the left side is associated with a general weakening of the heart muscle. This is the more common type of heart failure.


The weakened heart muscle no longer can keep up with the demands of the body for oxygen-rich blood.

Back-up into the lungs occurs. Symptoms of left-side heart failure include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Asthma-like wheezing
  • Dry, hacking cough, which occurs a few hours after lying down, but stops after sitting upright
  • Sleep apnea
  • Pink-tinged froth in the mouth and pale, clammy skin (these suggest fluid in the lungs)

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