Six signs of heart failure you might not expect

The signs and symptoms of heart failure

The heart is one of our most important organs, responsible for pumping blood around the body.

Therefore, any damage to the heart can prove fatal.

Heart failure occurs after long-term damage to the organ, often the culmination of various conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.

This leaves the heart weakened and stiff, meaning it is no longer able to move blood around.

It doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working but it will need support to continue to do so.

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Therefore, any signs of heart failure should be immediately investigated.

There are some symptoms that are to be expected.

These include things such as chest pain and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

However, there are some signs that may not be so obvious.

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According to the Mayo Clinic heart failure can cause:

  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
  • A cough that doesn’t go away or a cough that brings up white or pink mucus with spots of blood
  • Swelling of the belly area
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid build-up
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness.

If you experience these signs you should speak with your GP.

Other, more obvious, symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath with activity or when lying down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Wheezing.

However, if you experience any of the following you should call 999:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up white or pink, foamy mucus.

Causes of heart failure

It is thought there are around 60,000 new cases of heart failure diagnosed in the UK every year, with 900,000 people in total affected by the condition.

These are predominantly among older people over the age of 75, but it can affect people of any age.

There are a number of health conditions that can lead to heart failure.

These include:

  • Coronary heart disease – where the arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged up with fatty substances (atherosclerosis), which may cause angina or a heart attack
  • High blood pressure – this can put extra strain on the heart, which over time can lead to heart failure
  • Conditions affecting the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), such as atrial fibrillation
  • Damage or other problems with the heart valves
  • Congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart.

The NHS adds: “Sometimes obesity, anaemia, drinking too much alcohol, an overactive thyroid or high pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) can also lead to heart failure.”


There is no cure for heart failure, however, there are treatments available to help keep symptoms under control that can prove successful for many years – quite possibly for the rest of your life.

These include:

  • Healthy lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Devices implanted in your chest to control your heart rhythm
  • Surgery.

For many people a combination of treatments will be required.

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