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Q: What are the early warning signs of heart failure?

Heart failure has a wide range of definitions, but the most common is a culmination of symptoms and body changes that occur when the heart is not able to effectively pump out sufficient blood in order to meet the body’s demands. A lot of the symptoms can start slowly and progress gradually over time, making it easy to miss these signs and symptoms.

The Heart Failure Society of America developed the acronym FACES to help spot the symptoms:

  • Fatigue -- People with heart failure get tired easily, as the heart can no longer meet the body’s demand for oxygen and nutrients that the blood carries.
  • Activity limitation-- Even daily tasks such as getting up to use the bathroom can seem even more difficult.
  • Congestion -- Fluid buildup in the lungs can result in coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty, especially when trying to lie flat.
  • Edema -- Fluid builds up in the legs and ankles, causing swelling, also known as edema.
  • Shortness of breath – Usually this starts with activity, but eventually starts to occur with minimal movement and then at rest.

These five symptoms can be found in other medical conditions; however, speaking to your physician about these symptoms can help start the workup towards the potential diagnosis of heart failure. An early diagnosis can lead to the start of very effective medical treatments that have the potential to reverse this condition.

Risk factors for heart failure include previous heart attacks, uncontrolled high blood pressure, irregular and/or fast heartbeats, diabetes, smoking, excessive alcohol use, high salt and high fat foods, and even genetics.

Left untreated, heart failure can become irreversible, life-threatening and cause serious complications including kidney failure, fluid in and around the lungs, and lastly death.

A staggering 6.2 million people have the diagnosis of heart failure in the US alone. Last year 15% of all deaths were associated with the diagnosis of heart failure.

Ask your friendly heart doctor today if you suffer from any of the above symptoms and help us stop this epidemic from worsening.

Anil Punjabi, MD


Ohana Heart
Ohana Heart
85 Maui Lani Parkway
Wailuku, HI 96793