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Signs & Symptoms of Heart Failure in the Elderly

Updated February 21, 2019

Heart failure develops when the heart can no longer pump enough blood for your body, causing blood to back up in the lungs and other areas of the body. The irreversible condition, also called congestive heart failure, develops due to other cardiac problems, including hypertension and coronary artery disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although anyone can develop congestive heart failure, it is more common in people older than 70, according to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

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Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, commonly develops in elderly people with heart failure. It develops because blood backs up in the pulmonary arteries when the heart cannot work fast enough to keep up with the supply, according to the American Heart Association. This causes blood to seep into the lungs. Other respiratory symptoms include a cough and wheezing. In some cases, people may cough up white or pink phlegm.

Cardiac Symptoms

Heart failure often leads to an increased heart rate because the organ is trying to catch up with the backlog of blood. When your heart rate increases, it can feel as though your heart is racing or your may feel palpitations, according to the American Heart Association. In some cases, the heartbeat may also become irregular.


Swelling in the abdomen, legs, ankles, feet and neck veins are signs of heart failure, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The swelling, called oedema, develops when blood flow slows and causes fluid to build up in the tissues. Additionally, heart failure can make it more difficult for the kidneys to filter out water and sodium, causing more fluid retention. Weight gain can be a sign of congestive heart failure because of the fluid retention.


Elderly people with congestive heart failure often develop fatigue and tiredness, according to the American Heart Association. They may feel weak or find that they are no longer able to exercise or be physically active. Fatigue develops because the heart is not pumping enough blood and available blood is pumped to vital organs, leaving muscles and other body tissues with an insufficient supply.

Lack of Appetite

In the elderly, appetite can wane when heart failure develops. This occurs because the digestive tract is not receiving a sufficient amount of blood, causing problems with digestion, according to the American Heart Association.

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About the Author

Anna Aronson

Anna Aronson began working as a journalist in 2000 and spent six years at suburban Chicago newspapers before pursuing freelance work. She enjoys writing about health care topics, in particular obstetrics, pediatrics and nutrition. She received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and is now studying for a Master of Science in medicine degree to become a physician's assistant.

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