What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Heart Failure in Older Adults?

Updated March 23, 2017

According to the American Heart Association, more than 5.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart failure. Each year more than 600,000 new cases are diagnosed. A healthy diet, exercise and medical care are the best ways to manage heart failure.

Important Fact

Heart failure is not the same thing as a heart attack. A heart attack is caused by a heart muscle that completely stops working. Heart failure is caused by a weak heart muscle that works but not as well as it should. Heart failure develops gradually, and a person can have it for years before they are diagnosed.


Heart failure is caused by a weak heart muscle. The heart muscle pumps blood through the body. If the muscle becomes weak, it cannot pump all the blood the body needs. According to the Mayo Clinic, heart failure often starts on the left side of the heart because that's the location of the main pumping chamber.


The symptoms of heart failure are the same across all age groups. Common symptoms include fatigue and weakness; rapid or irregular heartbeat; swelling in the legs, ankles, feet and abdomen; fluid retention; nausea; and breathing problems.


According to the University of Alabama-Birmingham's, more than 80 per cent of heart failure patients are 65 years old and older. It's also the No. 1 reason elderly adults are hospitalised. Many elderly adults think their heart-failure symptoms are normal signs of ageing.

Heart Failure Symptoms vs. Normal Aging

Signs of heart failure overlap with signs of ageing. Because of this, some elderly people ignore warning signs. A 30-year-old person who experiences long-term breathing problems will become alarmed. A 60-year old person might ignore her breathing problems, thinking its normal for their age. Medical diagnosis is the only way to tell if the signs are heart failure or age-related.

Track the Signs

Most signs of heart failure are common occurrences. Swollen ankles are often caused by poor circulation. A rapid heartbeat can result from excitement or anxiety. Fatigue may signal a need for rest. These are all heart-failure symptoms, but they don't always mean a person has the disorder. Seek medical attention if you experience any of these signs for a prolonged period. You could have any number of medical conditions.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Michelle Strait is a professional writer with over five years of experience. She has written for several publications, including "Writer's Digest." She has also created logic puzzles for "Penny Press Magazine." Strait graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in journalism and English.