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Categories > Heart Health > Heart disease: Symptoms

Arresting heart failure
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Warning signs of heart failure include:


Is it a heart attack?
Is it a heart attack?

During a heart attack, a clot in an artery blocks blood flow to the heart, resulting in the death of heart muscle. Since heart attack treatments should optimally be started within an hour after symptoms begin, timing is everything. To enhance your chances of a full recovery, call for emergency medical care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Chest discomfort. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center of the chest.
  • Discomfort in other upper-body areas. Symptoms can include discomfort in one or both arms or in the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. Breathing difficulties can precede or accompany chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. Some people report a cold sweat, nausea, light-headedness or feelings of impending doom.

If your heart is damaged, whether by high blood pressure, diabetes or some form of coronary artery disease (including angina and heart attack), it can’t pump blood as well as it should—a condition known as heart failure. Despite its name, heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped or that you’ve had a heart attack, but that your heart is weak and working inefficiently.

Warning signs of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath. Breathing problems can occur during activity or when lying down as blood backs up in the pulmonary veins, causing fluid to leak into the lungs.
  • Fatigue. Simple activities like getting dressed or walking can trigger extreme fatigue and make everyday chores seem impossible.
  • Water retention. Fluid builds up in the legs, feet, ankles and, sometimes, abdomen. Other water-retention signs include frequent urination and weight gain.
  • Coughing or wheezing. Fluid buildup in the lungs can cause coughing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.
  • Appetite loss or nausea. Digestive problems can make you feel full or sick to your stomach.
  • Confusion or impaired thinking. Changing levels of sodium and other substances in the blood can cause memory loss and disorientation.
  • Increased heart rate. A racing heart or palpitations can occur when the heart starts beating faster to make up for loss in pumping capacity.

Get prompt medical care if you have any of these symptoms. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalizations among people ages 65 and older.