Symptoms of heart failure

This is Bob. He's been fighting heart failure for over 10 years.


Could you spot heart failure?

Giving yourself the knowledge to spot the symptoms of heart failure is a great first step towards fighting the impact the condition could have on a life. The earlier we can spot the signs of heart failure; the sooner healthcare professionals can intervene and begin appropriate treatment.

What are the symptoms?

There are three main symptoms associated with heart failure:1

Breathlessness Icon

When you find yourself short of breath either at rest or while being active. This may get worse when lying down or at night.

Tired Icon
Extreme Tiredness

Otherwise known as fatigue. You may feel more drained than usual and this may affect you most of the time.1

Swollen Legs Icon
Swollen legs or ankles

This is known as oedema. It’s caused by a build-up of fluid and you may notice it gets worse later on in the day.1

Other less common symptoms include:1

A persistent cough • Wheezing • Loss of appetite • Bloating • Unexplained weight gain or loss • Confusion • Dizziness and fainting • A fast or irregular heartbeat

What should I do if I experience these symptoms?

If you have any of these symptoms you should visit your doctor. If they think you are presenting symptoms of heart failure, they might offer you a simple blood test called NTproBNP (N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide) – this is a hormone released into the blood when the heart is under stress.

This test is very useful in evaluating how likely a heart failure diagnosis is. The results can help to guide your doctor’s next steps, and how to investigate the origin of your symptoms in further detail. They may need to refer you to a heart failure specialist for further tests, such as an echocardiogram.

Another hormone which could be measured in the blood sample instead of NT-proBNP is BNP (B-type natriuretic hormone). BNP is closely related to NT-proBNP and serves the same purpose, however, NT-proBNP is recommended due to several advantages.2

Listen to...

Dr Simon Williams of the British Society for Heart Failure
explain the condition and its symptoms in detail.


Why is early diagnosis so important?

Heart failure is often a progressive condition.1 As such, it is important to detect the disease early, get timely access to heart failure specialist care and implement an appropriate management plan. There are interventions which can help manage the condition.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your medical practitioner (usually your GP) will perform a clinical examination and evaluate your medical history. If they believe your symptoms could be due to heart failure, they should offer you a simple blood test called NT-proBNP. If the levels are elevated, this could suggest you have heart failure and a specialist referral for further tests may be needed.

If indicated, a type of ultrasound imaging called echocardiography should be performed by an experienced healthcare professional2 to evaluate heart function and detect any abnormalities. This is often carried out in a hospital setting.

One or more of the following tests may also be performed in order to detect aggravating factors and/or alternative diagnoses:1

Lung function tests

(e.g. spirometry or peak flow)

These tests can help establish if your symptoms may be due to a lung problem or if this is a contributing factor.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This test checks your heart’s rhythm and electrical activity through sensors attached to your skin.5

Chest x-ray

This is when an image is taken of the inside of your body, such as your chest, using a type of radiation that can pass through the body. X-rays are usually carried out by specialists known as radiographers in a hospital setting.6

Blood test

There are a variety of blood tests with a wide range of uses. They can be used to check how well your organs are working, or simply assess you overall health.7

I've been diagnosed.
What comes next?

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, it’s perfectly normal to feel stressed, afraid or alone. But it’s important to remember you are not alone.

Due to COVID-19, it may be more difficult to visit your heart failure specialist team in person, but it is important for you to know how to seek medical help, if needed. There may be different solutions in place such as virtual consultations.

Knowing how to look after yourself and monitor your condition is essential. Keeping track of your symptoms is one important aspect of this. Here you can find our symptom tracker which you may find helpful.

Find out more

Help us fight heart failure

Share what you’ve learnt today and together we can raise awareness of heart failure.

I’ve just learnt about the impact heart failure has in the UK. I’m sharing this so we can all fight heart failure together.



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  2. NICE. Chronic heart failure in adults: diagnosis and management. NG106. September 2018. Full guidance. Available oonline at: Last accessed: September 2020.
  3. Wang Y et al. Early Detection of Heart Failure with Varying Prediction Windows by Structured and Unstructured Data in Electronic Health Records. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society Annual Conference. 2015;2015:2530-2533. Available online at: Last accessed: September 2020.
  4. Last accessed: September 2020.
  5. Last accessed: September 2020.
  6. Last accessed: September 2020.
  7. Last accessed: September 2020.

CVM20-C007e August 2020

Fighting Failure is a disease awareness campaign that has been sponsored and funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd.

© 2020 Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Ltd.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited is a private limited liability company registered in England and Wales under number 119006 Registered office 2nd Floor, The WestWorks Building, White City Place, 195 Wood Lane, London, W12 7FQ.

Reporting side effects
If you get side-effects with any medication you are taking, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse. This includes any possible side effects not listed in the information leaflet that comes in the pack. You can report side effects via the Yellow Card Scheme at (UK).
By reporting side effects you can help provide more information on the safety of your medication.

CVM20-C007q August 2020