Congestive Heart Failure Home > Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

A person with congestive heart failure may have symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, and swelling. The symptoms are related to the buildup of fluid in the lungs and in other areas of the body. Other symptoms include fatigue and limitations on physical activity. The signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure are grouped into classes, based on their severity and the level of activity that can be tolerated.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

The most common congestive heart failure symptoms are:
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Feeling tired
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, and sometimes the abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent urination
  • Limitations on physical activity.

Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms: Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath and feeling tired are caused by the buildup of fluid in the lungs and around the lung (called pleural effusions). When symptoms of congestive heart failure start, you may feel tired and short of breath after routine physical exertion. Climbing two flights of stairs, for example, may make you feel winded.
As the disease progresses, the symptoms get worse. You may begin to feel tired and short of breath after simple activities, like getting dressed or walking across the room. Some people have shortness of breath when lying flat.


Fluid buildup in the lungs can also cause a cough. The cough is often worse at night and when you are lying down. Excessive fluid in the lungs can cause a life-threatening condition called acute pulmonary edema. This condition requires emergency treatment.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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