As a serious condition in which the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, heart failure is often the result of narrowed arteries from coronary artery disease or high blood pressure, which can weaken the heart over time. The Cleveland Clinic says that roughly 5.7 million Americans are currently living with heart failure and about 550,000 new cases occur each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65, and can be a ʟɪғᴇ-ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛᴇɴɪɴɢ ɪʟʟɴᴇss if left untreated.
In spite of being relatively common, many people are unaware of the symptoms of heart failure. One surprising symptom, which is caused by fluid getting backed up in the lungs, shows up when a person with the condition lays on their back. If you notice this, it’s time to get screened for heart failure and heart disease, according to experts. Here are the symptom to look out for, and how to determine the severity of your condition.
If you experience shortness of breath while lying on your back, get your heart checked.
People with heart failure frequently report a symptom known as orthopnea, characterized as shortness of breath while lying down. Meanwhile, some others also experience shortness of breath during physical activity due to heart failure.
“The reason you may have orthopnea is that when you lie flat, the blood that ordinarily pools in the veins of your legs is reentering your bloodstream,” University of Michigan Health says. “If you have heart failure, your heart may not be able to keep up with the increased amount of blood returning to the heart, so fluid builds up inside the lungs and causes shortness of breath,” their site explains.
This can have serious implications. According to a 2002 study in the European Heart Journal Supplements, roughly 90 percent of heart failure patients eventually ᴅɪᴇ from cardiovascular causes. “Fifty percent ᴅɪᴇ from progressive heart failure, and the remainder ᴅɪᴇ suddenly from arrhythmias and ischemic events,” the study authors wrote. If you suspect heart failure, you should take proactive steps to improve your heart health immediately.
How to determine the severity of your condition.
According to Michigan experts note, for most patients with orthopnea, the severity of the problem will vary depending on your sleep position. Discomfort and breathlessness typically increase when you lay flatter on your bed.
In fact, this may help you to figure out how serious your condition is. “To gauge the severity of this symptom, doctors often ask people how many pillows they need to lie on to avoid feeling short of breath in bed. For instance, “three-pillow” orthopnea is worse than “two-pillow” orthopnea, because you have less tolerance for lying flat,” they say.
If you notice that you can’t seem to catch your breath without a steep incline, call the doctor for a heart screening.
Experts say you may develop this related condition
If your shortness of breath wakes you up in the night, you may have a related condition called paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND). “Some people with heart failure wake up in the middle of the night with severe shortness of breath,” explain the University of Michigan experts. They add that “This may occur with waking up coughing and/or wheezing, having a rapid heart rate, and a feeling of being suffocated,” .
Moreover, typically, those who experience PND don’t feel increased shortness of breath when they first lie down but after lying down for several hours, their symptoms may appear suddenly. “People who experience PND often have to sit up on the side of the bed, and they may feel a need to open a window to get more air. The shortness of breath generally goes away after a few minutes of sitting up,” they explain.
While this condition is distinct from similarly presenting sleep apnea, experts say that both conditions are linked to heart failure and merit heart health screening. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea actually is known to increase the risk of heart failure by 140 percent, and the risk of coronary heart disease by 30 percent.
Other signs of heart failure
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several other symptoms of heart failure that should be on your radar. Those symptoms may be:
– Swelling in the lower extremities
– Persistent cough
– Rapid weight gain
– difficulty concentrating
– Swelling in the abdomen
– Chest pain