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Signs of Dying With Congestive Heart Failure

author image Robin Wood-Moen
Robin Wood-Moen began writing in 2000. She is an academic researcher in health psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, religion/spirituality, bereavement, death/dying, meaning-making processes and CAM therapies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in forensic-social sciences from University of North Dakota, a Master of Science in psychology and is working on her Ph.D. in health psychology, both from Walden University.
Signs of Dying With Congestive Heart Failure
A woman is lying upright in a hospital bed. Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Congestive heart failure is a chronic and life threatening medical condition. This condition begins with an initial trauma to the heart or infection and symptoms can vary depending on the side of the heart that has the most damage. Penn State Milton S. Hershey College of Medicine describes congestive heart failure as the inability of the heart to pump blood to the extremities, making the unaffected side work harder. This activity then leads to a number of troubling co-occurring symptoms until the heart can no longer pump at all and the lungs fill with fluid.

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Edema is a persistent and problematic symptom in the individual with congestive heart failure. The abdomen, ankles, feet and legs fill with excess fluid in the organs and tissues, leading to weight gain and difficulty performing daily tasks. Physiologically, this occurs when the kidneys begin to shut down and cannot produce enough urine to secrete sodium and fluids from the tissues and the body. The Heart Hope website suggests that most individuals with advanced stages of congestive heart failure are on a medication regimen for edema that can include a combination of ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, blood thinners and diuretics.


Individuals with congestive heart failure often report dizziness, vertigo, nausea and physical exhaustion with the exertion from physical activity such as folding laundry or climbing stairs. The American Heart Association describes this process as the thriftiness of the blood vessels, which receive very little blood supply from the heart. The blood vessels are constricted and, therefore, only pump to the vital organs, back to the brain, and then the heart. As such, the muscles do not have an ample supply of oxygen-rich blood to function without fatigue.

Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath with or without a cough is a symptom that can worsen as the staging of congestive heart failure progresses. Heart Failure Society of America posits that this shortness of breath related to excess fluid build-up in the lungs can occur while the patient is engaged in physical activity or in a resting state. Many individuals experience both productive and nonproductive coughing attacks and increased problems breathing at night when trying to sleep. This often requires several pillows beneath the head to elevate it and to aid in comfort while sleeping.

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