What does it feel like when your heart fails

What does it feel like when your heart fails

Cardiology, Heart Failure, Medicine

When the heart loses the ability to pump blood the human body compensates in several ways that include water accumulation. This can lead to a variety of symptoms that are easy to identify for those who know them.

Heart failure is a common medical condition that requires attention and close follow up with your doctor. The heart is the engine of our bodies; it keeps us alive by pushing blood where it is needed. If our heart is damaged, it can lose its ability to pump blood forward. When this happens, other parts of the body like the kidneys and the brain will notice a drop in blood pressure. Because the body does not work well with low blood pressure, these other organs try to raise the blood pressure by increasing the amount of water inside the body. This makes sense in a situation where the low blood pressure is temporary. To understand this better, think back to the time of the caveman. Imagine a caveman hunting for food. If an accident happens and he becomes injured and loses a lot of blood, this would cause the blood pressure to drop. The kidneys and brain would kick into action and increase the amount of water inside his body. This increase in water would help to raise the blood pressure and keep the caveman alive until he recovered from his injuries. When the heart engine fails, low blood pressure is more than just temporary. This leads to an abnormal accumulation of water that continues over time. Eventually, this excess water becomes a problem.

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Many things can cause the heart to fail; but regardless of the cause, the abnormal accumulation of water causes classic symptoms. Some changes that a patient with heart failure may notice:
  • Abnormal increase in their weight
    Abnormal increase in their weight
  • Fatigue
    Fatigue
  • Water accumulating in the body swollen, tense and heavy legs
    Water accumulating in the body swollen, tense and heavy legs
  • A growing belly
    A growing belly
  • The veins in the neck can become swollen and more visible
    The veins in the neck can become swollen and more visible
  • Shortness of breath occurs, first with walking
    Shortness of breath occurs, first with walking
  •  and eventually even at rest
    and eventually even at rest
  • Heart rate beating fast all the time even while doing little
    Heart rate beating fast all the time even while doing little
  • Blood pressure that was well controlled now is high all the time
    Blood pressure that was well controlled now is high all the time

In addition to these a person may notice that laying flat in bed will become very difficult as it will cause shortness of breath; the person may need 3 or 4 pillows to be able to sleep. Also they may find themselves waking up in the middle of the night feeling like they can’t breathe. The combination of these symptoms should alert a person that has never had them before that he or she might have heart failure. For patients who already know they have a weak heart, these symptoms should alert them to seek medical attention.

About the Author
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Jose Taveras M.D.

Dr. Taveras is a non-invasive cardiologist in the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care in Bronx, New York. He trained in both internal medicine and pediatrics and is currently an assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the co-creator of Doctablet.

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Last Modified: Jun 17, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

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Summary
What does it feel like when your heart fails
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What does it feel like when your heart fails
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Heart failure is a common medical condition that requires close follow up with your doctor. Learn what are the common sings and symptoms of this condition.
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Doctablet®
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