Congestive Heart Failure: Physical Signs, Symptoms & Diagnosis

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Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition where your heart fails to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to other organs of your body. This is generally caused due to thickening of artery walls, high blood pressure, heart muscle disease, congenital heart defects, heart valve infection etc. One has to monitor congestive heart failure physical signs and symptoms to come to a conclusion. There are several tests that can diagnose congestive heart failure and various treatment options available. But first, you should be aware of the outward signs and symptoms of this condition.

Signs & Signals

There are many physical symptoms that can point out to congestion in tissues and a possible heart failure. Here are some key physical signs of congestive heart failure:

Swelling (Edema) of the Legs and Ankles:

This is one of the main signals. Swelling in ankles, abdomen and legs is mainly caused due to the heart’s inability to pump blood. This physical sign can be referred to as “right sided heart failure”. This occurs when the heart chamber on the right fail to pump venous blood to the lungs. Swelling can also occur in other parts of the body, including lungs, causing shortness of breath.


One of the early symptoms is fatigue. The patient will not be able to exert too much and will reduce many activities due to shortness of breath and fatigue. Although fatigue is a very common condition, be aware of excess fatiague as this is the most prelevant sign of congestive heart failure. Another visible physical sign is weight gain.

Increased Urination, Abdominal Pain:

The body retains extra fluid due to the heart’s inability to pump blood to other parts of the body. This can also cause increased urination besides edema. The extra fluid may also accumulate in the liver and intestines, causing abdominal pain and nausea.

There are many useful tests, such as ECG (electrocardiogram) and chest X-ray to detect fluid in and around the lungs. The physical signs of CHF can be easily diagnosed by a proper physical examination, which detects any extra fluid in the legs, ankles and lungs.

The best diagnostic test is an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound technology to scan heart muscles and blood flow patterns to monitor heart muscle weakness. This test will reveal the main cause of heart muscle weakness. Every patient must go for an echocardiogram test if he or she has visible symptoms of a heart condition.

Treatment Options

Following diagnosis, CHF patients should always follow a treatment program comprising of medications such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, vasodilators and diuretics, rest, proper exercise and diet. The specific cause of congestive heart failure should be treated. For example, if CHF is caused by an abnormal heart valve, then it should be treated by surgery, or if the main cause is high blood pressure, then the doctors should treat using proper medication. However, if the heart becomes damaged and is irreparable, then a heart transplant is the sole option.


“Congestive Heart Failure” (

“Congestive Heart Failure Signs and Symptoms” (

“Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms, Treatment and Causes”

“Heart Failure” (Medline Plus)