What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath with or without exercise, wheezing, fluid retention (swollen ankles and legs) or a dry hacking cough after lying down.

Breathing Difficulties

Problems with breathing are among the most common symptoms of heart failure. Some breathing problems occur when fluid backs up in the lungs and the surrounding tissues (sometimes known as congestive heart failure). This fluid backup can cause:

  • Breathlessness after mild exercise
  • Asthma-like wheezing or dry cough a few hours after lying down

If breathing problems occur when you lie flat, you may need to elevate your head or sit in a recliner to sleep. Advanced stages of heart failure can cause a feeling of suffocation.

Water Retention

If too little blood reaches your body's tissues, they retain fluid and begin to swell. Swelling happens first in your feet, then in your ankles and legs, and finally in your abdomen. As the tissues retain salt and water, you might gain weight even if you're eating less.


Fatigue occurs because the muscles in your body receive too little oxygen. The more you exert yourself, the greater the fatigue.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Heart palpitations (pounding heart)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting spells

You may also have difficulty sleeping. At night when you lie down, you may need to urinate more often. Also, fluid backs up into the lungs. Thus, sleep is often interrupted by:

  • Trips to the bathroom
  • Coughing spells
  • Shortness of breath