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10 Symptoms of Heart Failure, Explained by Doctors

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The fluid build-up can also cause swelling in your abdomen, which Dr. Solanki says is usually a sign that the right side of your heart is having trouble.

5. Nausea and lack of appetite

When your abdomen gets swollen from excess fluid, it makes it tough to have much of an appetite. “Many people with this heart failure symptom are not able to eat much and may have nausea,” Dr. Wald says.

6. A rapid or irregular heartbeat

As heart failure progresses, the organ often tries to overcompensate by beating faster to increase circulation in the rest of your body. “People may start feeling heart palpitations or irregular beats,” Dr. Solanki confirms.

7. Constant coughing or wheezing

This is also due to fluid and blood build-up in your lungs, Dr. Solanki says. Coughing up pink-hued mucus due to blood, in particular, is often a sign that your heart failure has progressed to a more severe, advanced stage.2

8. Very fast, unexplained weight gain

Here’s yet another sign of fluid build-up in your body. “If you see more than a two-pound weight gain in a 24-hour period, that’s a potential sign of an acute heart failure issue,” Jennifer Wong, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.

9. Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness

People with severe heart failure may not be receiving enough blood flow to the brain, Dr. Wald says. As a result, your brain doesn’t get the sufficient oxygen it needs to function well, leading to problems with staying alert and focused. At this point, you may have low levels of sodium in your blood, and that can lead to confusion in some people, per the AHA.

10. Chest pain

“When your heart is pumping rapidly, but your upper-body circulation is not able to keep up, you can start developing chest pains,” Dr. Solanki says. What that pain feels like varies from person to person, but it can range from mild discomfort to a squeezing sensation to sharp, burning pain. Chest pain can also signal coronary artery disease linked to heart failure, a condition in which your arteries become very narrow or completely blocked, often leading to a heart attack, per the CDC.

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How to use “FACES” to remember the symptoms of heart failure

FACES is an easy mnemonic device and a quick way to remember some of the most common signs of heart failure:3

  • Fatigue
  • Activities limited
  • Chest congestion
  • Edema or ankle swelling
  • Shortness of breath

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How is heart failure diagnosed?

First, your doctor will go through your medical history to identify any potential heart failure risk factors. Then, they’ll do a physical exam to listen to your lungs for signs of fluid build-up and your heart for specific noises that can be indicative of heart failure.

After that, there are a slew of potential tests your doctor may recommend if they suspect you have heart failure symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic:


The fluid build-up can also cause swelling in your abdomen, which Dr. Solanki says is usually a sign that the right side of your heart is having trouble.

5. Nausea and lack of appetite

When your abdomen gets swollen from excess fluid, it makes it tough to have much of an appetite. “Many people with this heart failure symptom are not able to eat much and may have nausea,” Dr. Wald says.

6. A rapid or irregular heartbeat

As heart failure progresses, the organ often tries to overcompensate by beating faster to increase circulation in the rest of your body. “People may start feeling heart palpitations or irregular beats,” Dr. Solanki confirms.

7. Constant coughing or wheezing

This is also due to fluid and blood build-up in your lungs, Dr. Solanki says. Coughing up pink-hued mucus due to blood, in particular, is often a sign that your heart failure has progressed to a more severe, advanced stage.2

8. Very fast, unexplained weight gain

Here’s yet another sign of fluid build-up in your body. “If you see more than a two-pound weight gain in a 24-hour period, that’s a potential sign of an acute heart failure issue,” Jennifer Wong, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.

9. Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness

People with severe heart failure may not be receiving enough blood flow to the brain, Dr. Wald says. As a result, your brain doesn’t get the sufficient oxygen it needs to function well, leading to problems with staying alert and focused. At this point, you may have low levels of sodium in your blood, and that can lead to confusion in some people, per the AHA.

10. Chest pain

“When your heart is pumping rapidly, but your upper-body circulation is not able to keep up, you can start developing chest pains,” Dr. Solanki says. What that pain feels like varies from person to person, but it can range from mild discomfort to a squeezing sensation to sharp, burning pain. Chest pain can also signal coronary artery disease linked to heart failure, a condition in which your arteries become very narrow or completely blocked, often leading to a heart attack, per the CDC.

Back to top

How to use “FACES” to remember the symptoms of heart failure

FACES is an easy mnemonic device and a quick way to remember some of the most common signs of heart failure:3

  • Fatigue
  • Activities limited
  • Chest congestion
  • Edema or ankle swelling
  • Shortness of breath

Back to top

How is heart failure diagnosed?

First, your doctor will go through your medical history to identify any potential heart failure risk factors. Then, they’ll do a physical exam to listen to your lungs for signs of fluid build-up and your heart for specific noises that can be indicative of heart failure.

After that, there are a slew of potential tests your doctor may recommend if they suspect you have heart failure symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic:

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