Knowing the Signs of Heart Failure Could Save Your Life

Signs of Heart Failure

You may be surprised to learn that heart failure happens very gradually – there is no dramatic scene like you might see in the movies. Heart failure can have several smaller symptoms that build up over time, and you might not even notice the problems at first.

Heart failure means that the heart muscle is suffering damage with every passing day. Eventually, heart failure can turn into a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

Heart failure might also be called congestive heart failure. It encompasses many different problems that can affect the heart in negative ways, such as the heart not pumping with enough force or not enough blood getting into your heart to begin with. Over time, the damage these issues cause can weaken the heart to a point where invasive treatment is needed.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that almost 6 million people in the United States currently suffer from heart failure.1 And the CDC documented that in 2018, over 13% of all deaths were caused by heart failure.2

If you can spot the signs of heart failure early on, you may be able to treat it effectively and live a longer, healthier life. Let’s look at how your body indicates there is something going wrong with your heart.

It Seems Tough to Catch Your Breath

When something goes wrong with the heart, it’s a sure bet something is going wrong with the lungs, too. That’s because the heart and lungs work together with every beat and breath. As blood races back to the heart, it enters the right side, and the heart pumps it to the lungs to fill it back up with oxygen. Then it is released into the body again from the left side of the heart.

The problems happen when the blood isn’t moving properly. That means it isn’t picking up enough oxygen on its route around your body. The result is shortness of breath. No matter how much you inhale, it never feels like you’re getting enough. And while this often gets worse with exertion, it can happen while you are simply sitting down in your easy chair.

It’s Difficult to Exercise

Speaking of exertion, exercise can become much more difficult than it used to be. Simply breathing through your usual exercises when your heart rate is up can be a challenge on a good day, but if you have heart failure, you could be gasping for air and wondering how you got so out of shape.

The truth may be that you’re not terribly out of shape, but rather your heart isn’t doing what it should be doing. Get off the treadmill and get to the doctor!

You Can’t Lie Down Comfortably

Maybe you can lie down on your side with no problem. But if you try to lie down flat on your back, issues ensue. That’s because when you lie down, the blood in your legs flows easily back up to your heart. That’s usually a good thing. But when your heart is failing, it can have trouble pumping the higher volume of blood around your body as you lie down flat. That leads to shortness of breath.

You might find that the problem resolves a bit when you prop yourself up on pillows. That’s because the pillows adjust your position enough to remove some of the pressure from your heart and lungs.

All of this can actually lead to a greater risk of falls. Why? Because when you try to sleep and you can’t breathe well, it’s not unusual to wake up feeling fatigued – or even to wake up with a start because your body is sounding an alarm telling you to breathe! Then you stumble out of bed in the hopes of standing up to feel better. As you might imagine, being fatigued can make you unsteady on your feet. If you can’t lie down comfortably on your back, it’s time to look into an alert for elderly and senior adults.

You’re Putting on Weight

No matter how much you exercise, you seem to be putting on weight. It happens mostly in your abdomen but you might notice it in other places too, like your arms and legs. And it’s not the kind of weight that sends the scale up a little at a time – instead, it’s the kind of weight that makes you ten pounds heavier in a week.

If you’re not the type to get on a scale regularly, consider the way your clothes fit. Are they suddenly tight (and you didn’t just eat Thanksgiving dinner)? That might be water retention, which is one of your body’s ways to try to compensate for your heart not working properly.

Your Legs and Feet are Swollen

The heart sends blood around the body and that oxygenates every cell. But when some areas of the body don’t get enough blood, they overcompensate and try to “fix” the problem. That’s the case with the kidneys. Your kidneys will start making your body retain fluid as they try to handle the lack of blood flow. This usually shows up with swollen feet and legs. Sometimes this can get rather severe.

How can you tell it’s happening? You might notice that suddenly, your shoes don’t seem to fit well anymore. Your skin might be shiny and look stretched. And if you press your finger against your skin, there might be an indentation there that takes several seconds to fill back in.

Your Feet are Cold… Really Cold

Are you bundled up for no apparent reason lately? While others are going about their merry way in typical everyday clothing, you’re wearing layers of socks and mittens, but even that doesn’t seem to warm you up.

You might think this is a normal sign of aging, and you have reason to think that way – after all, as we get older it gets tougher to regulate our body temperature. But it could also be a circulation issue and not enough blood getting to your hands and feet. If you’re bundled up on the couch while everyone else seems fine, it’s time to talk to your doctor about what might be causing it.

You’re Urinating All the Time

Are you running to the bathroom all the time? Sometimes that can be traced back to certain medications. But if you aren’t on any of those medications, it could be your body trying to get rid of that fluid that the kidneys are telling it to retain. With heart failure, you might find that you are getting up at all hours of the night to urinate.

This becomes an even bigger problem if you try to ease the issue by drinking less water. When you cut down on water, you might actually notice that fluid retention gets much worse. That’s because your kidneys are now begging your body to hold onto everything it can to avoid dehydration!

And when you’re dehydrated, there is intense strain on your heart. Your heart rate goes up and that makes the failing heart muscle even more fatigued. If you’re running to the bathroom to pee much more than usual, talk to your doctor right away.

You’re Exhausted

When heart failure begins, your body starts to work overtime. The blood pumps to the parts of the body that need it most, such as the brain and other vital organs. As the body compensates this way, it diverts blood away from your muscles. As the cells in your muscles become starved for oxygen, you might begin to feel quite weak. You can also feel bone-crushing fatigue that makes you want to sleep all day – but no amount of sleep feels like enough.

When you are dealing with that kind of fatigue, the importance of a personal emergency button alert cannot be stressed enough. Being that exhausted can make it very easy to lose your balance as you walk up a flight of stairs. It can also make it easy to make mistakes, such as a knife slip while you are cooking in the kitchen or some other accident that leaves you injured. Being able to reach out for help 24/7 at the press of a button is crucial to stay as safe and healthy as you can be.

You Are Confused

The heart will always try to protect your brain, no matter what. That’s why the body will prioritize the brain and leave less oxygenated blood for other body parts – like the muscles we just talked about.

But sometimes even that is not enough. If heart failure is caused by a problem with circulation, your brain might not get enough blood, no matter how hard the heart tries to make it happen. The result can be cognitive issues, including disorientation, memory problems, an inability to concentrate, and confusion. In fact, depending upon how bad the situation gets, these cognitive problems might make you believe there’s something else at play, such as early-stage dementia.

Your Favorite Foods Aren’t Appetizing Anymore

As heart failure progresses, your body isn’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood to many organs, including your stomach and digestive system. As a result, your digestion slows down. And when that happens, all sorts of additional problems can occur, including nausea, constipation, and indigestion. But you might also suffer from a severe lack of appetite. Even your favorite food begins to look like something you could easily pass by at the buffet table – assuming you’re feeling up to a buffet at all.

Get Checked Out Now

If you are showing any of the symptoms of heart failure, talk to your doctor right away. The problem can sneak up on you and get worse before you realize what’s really happening. According to the American Heart Association, other symptoms (in addition to those listed here) can include wheezing, persistent coughing, and heart palpitations.3

Don’t wait until you have all the symptoms; by then, the situation is dire.

In the meantime, consider an in-home or mobile medical alarm with or without fall detection from Alert1 to help keep you safe. Any time you feel unwell, simply press the button on the medical alert device to get the help you need fast. Remember, while medical alert technology is great for falls, it’s also there for any other sort of accident or emergency, keeping seniors and elderly adults safe throughout the Golden Years.