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4 Surprising Signs of Congestive Heart Failure to Look Out For

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Most of us think we know how to spot a heart that’s in trouble — pain in the chest and/or the left arm and difficulty breathing are all classic signs of a heart attack. But your body can give off other, subtler hints that heart disease is lurking.

Before we get started, it’s important to understand what congestive heart failure is. The medical terminology heart failure is used by doctors to indicate that the heart muscle is not moving enough blood through the body in order to keep up with the body’s demands. Congestive heart failure is a result of the buildup of fluid in the body that occurs when the heart isn’t able to circulate enough blood to the kidneys, either because of a preexisting heart condition or because of damage to the heart muscle that has occurred over time.

Without enough blood flow, the kidneys are unable to filter fluid into urine, and this fluid builds up in undesired places around the body including the lungs, legs and occasionally the abdomen. This is where the term congestive comes into play. Just as you are congested when you have a cold and too much mucus, a weakened heart can lead to a buildup of fluids which the body would under normal circumstances expel.

Learn more about cardiology care at Ochsner.

On average, about 670,000 Americans are diagnosed with heart failure every year. It can be caused by common heart culprits such as hypertension and diabetes or a less obvious reason like an existing heart disorder. Below are a few examples of the lesser-known symptoms of congestive heart failure.

Nausea, indigestion or stomach pain

While chances are that an upset stomach has more to do with what you ate last night than the health of your heart, it’s not all that uncommon for people to be nauseous during a heart attack. If you know you’re at risk for heart disease and notice digestive issues cropping up, talk to your doctor about whether it could be heartburn or something more serious, which in the long run can lead to heart failure.


A little snoring is perfectly normal, but if your partner reports that you’re making gasping or choking sounds while you snooze, you could have sleep apnea — a condition that causes you to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. These lapses in oxygen intake can put extra stress on your heart, upping your risk for a heart attack and heart failure.


Feeling overwhelmingly fatigued after performing normal, everyday tasks? Talk to your doctor right away. Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness is a common symptom of heart failure.

Swollen feet and ankles

If your legs are swollen, your heart might be to blame. When the heart muscle can’t pump fast enough, blood backs up in the veins and causes bloating, typically in the legs, feet and ankles.

Congestive heart failure can be treated so that the heart can perform more efficiently and stand up to the task of providing the body with adequate blood flow. Diuretics, or medicines that help get rid of extra fluid through urination, may be prescribed along with a low-salt diet. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, visit your nearest primary care physician or make an appointment with a local cardiologist to determine if congestive heart failure may be the cause.

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