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Signs and Symptoms of Cardiac Insufficiency

By Gloria Attar ; Updated July 18, 2017

Cardiac insufficiency, also known as heart failure, results from the heart’s inability to pump enough blood through the body. Heart failure strikes young and old, and may be the result of a genetic anomaly, disease or lifestyle. According to the Mayo Clinic, heart failure occurs as both an acute and a chronic condition, which makes it treatable in many cases. Knowing the signs and symptoms of cardiac insufficiency aids in preventing acute cases from deteriorating to chronic conditions.

Fluid Retention

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation lists sudden weight gain (more than 3 lbs. in a week) or swelling of hands, feet and legs as signs and symptoms of cardiac insufficiency. A common nursing assessment tool used to score the severity of edema, is to press a finger against the front of the lower calf. Hold it on the leg for five seconds; if your fingerprint leaves an indentation before the skin rebounds, then you have severe edema. If the skin merely blanches without indentation, edema is fairly mild. Cardiac insufficiency causes edema through its inability to pump fluid through the body, and fluid then accumulates in tissues, as stated in "Pathophysiology: a 2-in-1 Nursing Reference." The heart must work harder to wash away waste, but the heart with cardiac insufficiency can’t do that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know it can’t, and it continues to work harder. The harder it works, the weaker it gets; the weaker it gets, the more fluid that accumulates, and the edema worsens. Extremities may become so engorged with fluid that the skin starts to “weep, "and fluid just drips from the body.

Shortness of Breath

One of the most common signs of cardiac insufficiency is shortness of breath, or dyspnea. Dyspnea can occur at rest or with exertion. With a condition such as cardiac insufficiency, the episodes of dyspnea tend to increase over time until a person develops a dependence on supplemental oxygen. In addition to suffering the ravages of the disease, the person stricken with heart failure suffers from a lowered quality of life. No longer able to participate in activities without lugging around an oxygen tank, the person may eventually discover he no longer has the strength to walk across the room.

Cardiac Arrhythmias

As the heart attempts to rid the body of excess fluid volume, it beats faster. The Mayo Clinic states that a “rapid or irregular” heartbeat may ensue. Tachycardia (fast heart rate) is defined as a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute. With fluid accumulation, an irregular rhythm, in addition to the tachycardia, may also develop. These arrhythmias may be noticed as palpitations. Usually, medications or simple procedures can restore normal sinus rhythm.

Fatigue and Weakness

The Johns Hopkins "Complete Guide to Symptoms and Remedies" states the patient experiencing cardiac insufficiency fatigues easily. Fatigue and weakness shortly after waking is not normal. The body should feel rested after eight to 10 hours of sleep. A heart failure patient experiences constant fatigue, no matter how much rest she's had, because her heart never fully perfuses the body with oxygen. Constant fatigue alsocauses quality of life to suffer.

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