Changing F.A.C.E.S: Early Signs Of Heart Failure Every Woman Should Know

young african american businesswoman having heart attackHeart failure occurs when something damages the heart muscle or lessens its ability to pump effectively, the Harvard Heart Letter, published in September 2016 says. It’s important to note, that while “faulty heart valves,” or pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and genetic disease may also be to blame – for women, unlike men, heart attack symptoms are often unrelated to chest pain.

The earliest symptoms may be very subtle, but they are certainly not to be ignored. So, what are the warning signs of premature heart failure? How do you respond? To help both patients and physicians spot a combo of symptoms pointing to possible heart failure, the Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA) developed a handy tool that goes by the acronym F.A.C.E.S.

F = Fatigue. When the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body’s energy needs, a general feeling of tiredness or fatigue sets in.

A = Activity limitation. People with heart failure are often unable to do their normal activities because they become easily tired and short of breath.

C = Congestion. Fluid buildup in the lungs can result in coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty.

E = Edema or ankle swelling. When the heart doesn’t have enough pumping power to force used blood back up from the lower extremities, fluid can collect in the ankles, legs, thighs, and abdomen. Excess fluid can also cause rapid weight gain.

S = Shortness of breath. Fluid in the lungs makes it more difficult for carbon dioxide in used blood to be exchanged for fresh oxygen. It may also be harder to breathe when lying down because gravity allows fluid from below the lungs to travel up the torso.

Though by themselves, these symptoms don’t provide a concrete diagnosis; if you have more than one of these symptoms, experts suggest they convey a sense of urgency to see your doctor.

In addition to FACES, the American Heart Association (AMA) explains that persons suffering from a combination of nausea, confusion, discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal area, impaired thinking (foggy brain), or a high heart rate should also be evaluated for a condition called “congestive heart failure;” a type of heart failure which requires seeking immediate medical attention.