Signs & Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Women

Heart failure occurs because the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs and can affect either side of the heart. According to the HeartHealthyWomen website, half of the approximately 5 million Americans who have heart failure are women, and African-American women have a 50 to 60 percent increased risk of developing this condition than women of other races. Women are more likely than men to experience certain heart failure symptoms.

No Symptoms

In the early stages of heart failure, women may not experience any symptoms.

Breathing Problems

Signs & Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Women

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Women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath that can occur with activity, at rest or lying down. Shortness of breath can bother you at night, causing you to wake suddenly to catch your breath. Other breathing problems associated with heart failure include raspy breathing and wheezing.


According to the HeartHealthyWomen website, the most common sign of heart failure in elderly people is fatigue, which is experienced as constant tiredness and weakness.


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Coughing associated with heart failure is persistent and dry. A woman with this condition can cough up phlegm that is frothy or blood-tinged.

Swelling and Weight Gain

Because the heart is not pumping blood efficiently, fluid can build up, causing swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and belly. Women are more likely to experience swollen ankles. This fluid buildup can also cause a weight gain of more than 2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week.

Decreased Activities

Due to the symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath, a woman can notice it has become difficult to such perform activities as carrying groceries or completing regular exercise.

Bulging Neck Veins

Bulging neck veins are a symptom of this condition, and this symptom is more commonly experienced by women.

Decreased Appetite

The liver can enlarge due to the fluid buildup, which can inhibit the normal expansion of the stomach, causing nausea and the feeling of fullness after eating small amounts.

Nighttime Urination

Another symptom of heart failure is urinating more than usual at night.

Chest Pain and Increased Heart Rate

Heart failure can cause chest pain and a rapid or irregular heart rate. Any episode of new chest pain needs an evaluation by a physician, especially if it lasts longer than 15 minutes and doesn’t go away after using three nitroglycerin tablets.

Progression of Symptoms

Symptoms of heart failure usually start gradually and increase in severity over time rather than appear suddenly.