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Acute Heart Failure Symptoms: What To Check For

Medically reviewed by Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC · Cardiology

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Sep 05, 2022

    Acute Heart Failure Symptoms: What To Check For

    With acute heart failure, you experience a sudden, rapid decline in heart functioning. Heart failure, which means your heart can’t pump as well as it should, can occasionally quickly get worse. In that case, it’s referred to as acute or sudden heart failure. Heart failure is a life-threatening condition. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is a “sudden, life-threatening condition in which the heart is unable to do its job.” In other words, the heart still beats, but it cannot deliver the adequate oxygen that the body demands.

    Symptoms of acute heart failure

    Acute heart failure symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath (feeling as though you don’t have enough air in your lungs)
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations in the heart
  • Feeling worn out, weariness, and getting tired easily or easy fatigability
  • Swollen in your arms, legs, or stomach usually as a result of water retention. 
  • Feeling particularly full after only a short meal
  • Nausea
  • Spitting up pink phlegm
  • Difficulties concentrating and confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Acute heart failure can cause symptoms to appear quickly, but your symptoms may also build gradually before you realize there is a problem.

    However, heart failure can be fatal. People with heart failure may experience severe symptoms, and some may require a heart transplant or a ventricular assist device.  As heart failure can have countless causes, consulting a doctor is crucial. Proper diagnosis of the cause contributes greatly to the treatment.

    Proper treatment can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and may help some people live longer. Lifestyle changes – such as losing weight, exercising, cutting back on salt (sodium) in your diet, and managing stress – can also improve your quality of life (VAD).

    What if the signs of heart failure get worse?

    The simplest sign that heart failure is growing worse is that you are able to do less and less. You cannot pace yourself and have been forced to stop engaging in the usual activities of daily living, particularly those that require physical strength. Because you stopped doing these activities or have become sedentary, you might not notice the signs and symptoms. The best course of action is to disclose to your physician if you became sedentary due to easy fatigability.

    What to do if you have acute heart failure symptoms?

    Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack. But just like a heart attack, it can be a life-threatening occurrence, requiring emergency hospital care for the patient. Call your local emergency services for assistance if your symptoms are sudden or severe. Heart failure can cause serious complications, such as cardiac arrest, which is when your heart stops beating. Some people with heart failure may also have other health conditions, making it difficult to determine the exact cause of their symptoms.

    A 2017 study found that prompt treatment of acute heart failure can improve outcomes. Therefore, it is best to get checked by a doctor as soon as you notice any heart failure symptoms.

    Key Takeaways

    Reduce your risk factors, be aware of acute heart failure symptoms, and visit a doctor as soon as you can to prevent heart failure mortality.

    Learn more about Heart Failure here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC


    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Sep 05, 2022

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