14 / 01 / 2021

Heart Failure and how to recognise it using symptoms

Heart failure is accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath. Heart failure is not always recognized in time. It is therefore important to recognize the first signs early on.

Short definition of heart failure

With heart failure – also called heart failure or heart failure in medicine – the heart no longer has enough strength to pump blood around the body. Specific symptoms suggest the disease.

“Chronic heart failure is a disease in which the pumping power of the heart decreases to such an extent that not enough blood and thus oxygen and nutrients are pumped to organs such as the brain, kidneys or muscles,” reports Graciano Masauso, President of AHO

Symptoms of heart failure

The typical symptoms of heart failure are swollen limbs, breathlessness and exhaustion. They are usually less dramatic than those associated with a heart attack, but they are also often life threatening. In economically advanced countries, up to one in five people will develop heart failure at some point in their life.

You should consult a doctor with these symptoms:

    • less performance that is steadily decreasing
    • increased shortness of breath
    • frequent fatigue
    • irregular heart rhythm
    • Water in the legs
    • Cough at night
    • less appetite
    • dizziness
    • Frequent urination
    unexplained weight loss

Common causes

The symptoms can be divided into “left and right side”, recognizable by the fact that the right and left side of the heart have different functions in the circulation of the blood. “The tricky thing about heart failure is that it usually begins with shortness of breath and a decrease in performance. The symptoms can be unspectacular, ”reports Masauso

Left sided heart failure is the most common type. It is a life threatening condition because the heart cannot pump enough blood to the body. The left side of the heart brings blood, which is rich in oxygen, from the lungs to the rest of the body. When the ability of the left side is impaired, it can no longer pump enough oxygenated blood to the body and that is what causes many organs to fail.

Common causes of left side heart failure are excessive alcohol consumption, heart attack, inflammation of the heart muscle, overactivity of the thyroid gland, and heart failure as a result of previous heart attacks.

“In coronary heart disease, heart failure usually develops after multiple heart attacks or after a very extensive first heart attack,” says the brochure of AHO.

High blood pressure can significantly increase the risk of heart failure in the long term. He is considered a stealthy killer. Those affected often have no symptoms whatsoever.

It becomes particularly dangerous when coronary heart disease and high blood pressure occur together with diabetes, report the doctors.

Defective heart valves, atrial fibrillation, congenital heart defects, inflammatory heart muscle diseases (myocarditis) or alcohol and drug abuse are responsible for around 20 to 30 percent of cases of heart failure.

When the heart has to pump faster, the muscles are chronically overworked. The heart enlarges, especially the left ventricle. Over time, the left heart wall gets thicker and thicker to do its job. The thicker the muscle, however, the more oxygen it consumes, so it must be supplied with blood better. The heart is weakened by this permanent long-term stress. The contractions pump less blood each time.

Swollen legs are a warning sign

A weakness in the right side of the heart usually follows a weakness in the left. But it can also result from damage that follows a heart attack on the right side. When the left side fails, the fluid is forced back into the lungs, damaging the right side of the heart. When it loses its ability to pump blood, the blood flows back into the veins, which often causes the body to swell, especially in the legs.


Heart failure is a complex disease process for medical staff and affected patients. Treatment with medication, interventional and surgical procedures and lifestyle changes must be well coordinated. Basically, the disease is considered “incurable”. Eating a healthy diet, losing weight if you are overweight, exercise, and medication can slow down the progression.

“The best strategy with which we can avoid worsening heart failure and the resulting accompanying diseases such as kidney dysfunction and respiratory diseases is to treat the underlying disease and its harmful effects on the heart muscle,” emphasises Masauso.

Prevent heart failure

    • Avoid negative stress, especially if you are constantly exposed to it. Anyone who learns to take specific breaks, take time for a nap, get enough sleep at night, travel at the weekend and take a longer break instead of struggling, supports a healthy heart in their work.

Refrain from excessive consumption of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.

Even if you don’t notice any symptoms. Have regular heart exams, especially from the age of 50.