What Are the Signs of Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is also known as just heart failure. Congestive heart failure is a serious cardiac condition in which the heart isn’t able to pump blood as efficiently as it should be able to. 

Heart failure doesn’t mean someone’s heart is not working, but it means the heart muscle isn’t as able to contract, or it may have a mechanical problem. That mechanical problem can limit the ability of the heart to fill with blood. 

When someone has congestive heart failure, their heart can’t keep up with the demands of the body. Blood is returning to someone’s heart faster than it’s able to be pumped out, so it gets backed up or congested. This means there’s not enough oxygen-rich blood reaching other organs. 

The body will then try to compensate. For example, someone’s heart might beat faster so that it’ll take less time to refill after contracting. The heart can also enlarge to make more room for blood. 

There’s no cure for heart failure, but there are treatment options available. 

Treatment goals include symptom relief and slowing of further damage, with an exact plan depending on someone’s type of heart failure and their underlying conditions. 

The following are signs of congestive heart failure and other things to know about this cardiovascular condition. 

Symptoms of Heart Failure

The symptoms someone might experience vary depending on which side of their heart is affected and the severity of their condition. Most symptoms are caused because of the reduced blood flow to their organs and the buildup of fluid in their body. 

The fluid buildup occurs because of the slow speed of the flow of blood through a person’s heart. The blood will back up in the vessels that return blood to the heart. This can cause fluid to leak from blood vessels, collecting in bodily tissues. The result of this is edema, which is swelling. 

Symptoms of heart failure can include:

  • Feeling short of breath
  • Weakness or fatigue, even following a period of rest
  • Swelling and weight gain from fluid in your lower legs, ankle, or abdomen
  • Problems sleeping when lying flat
  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Needing to urinate frequently
  • Swelling in neck veins
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Pink blood-tinged mucus
  • Decreased alertness 

Complications of Heart Failure

When you have a buildup of fluid along with reduced blood flow to organs, it can cause serious complications and health problems. 

You may have breathing problems because fluid is building up around your lungs. Kidney and liver damage can occur, as can malnutrition if the buildup of fluid makes it uncomfortable to eat. 

Other heart conditions can occur, such as sudden cardiac arrest or an irregular heartbeat, as can pulmonary hypertension. 


Heart failure tends to occur after other conditions damage or weaken the heart, but it can also occur if someone’s heart becomes too stiff. 

Some of the causes of heart failure include:

  • Coronary artery disease—this is the most common cause of heart failure, and it stems from a buildup of fatty deposits in arteries, reducing blood flow. Someone with a history of heart attacks might also experience heart failure. 
  • High blood pressure
  • Faulty or damaged heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle—this can occur due to diseases, heavy alcohol use, the toxic effects of certain drugs, or infection
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Being born with a heart problem known as a congenital heart defect
  • Abnormal heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias
  • Long-term diseases like an over- or underactive thyroid or a buildup of protein or iron
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea


Finally, when a doctor diagnoses heart failure, they can classify it into one of four categories. With Class I heart failure, there are no symptoms. Class II heart failure means everyday activities are manageable, but exertion can lead to fatigue or shortness of breath. Class III heart failure makes it hard to do everyday activities, and class IV heart failure leads to shortness of breath even when someone is at rest. Class IV heart failure is the most severe. 

When a person has heart failure, it’s a chronic disease and will require management that’s lifelong, but the symptoms can improve, and the heart can get stronger. 

If there’s an underlying cause, such as a heart valve that needs to be repaired, this is one way to reverse heart failure. 

In other cases, a person might have a combination of medications and sometimes devices that help their heart beat and contract the way it should.