Edema refers to fluid retention such as that in the lower legs that causes swelling, but can this be the ONLY symptom of congestive heart failure?

Can a person feel and function just fine otherwise, despite the puffy lower legs and ankles from the congestive heart failure’s edema?

Congestive heart failure can cause numerous symptoms, including the fluid retention of edema.

Sometimes, this backed-up fluid goes higher than knee level, affecting the upper legs and even the groin area.

“Congestive heart failure can just cause edema and no other symptoms if it is due to purely right sided failure,” says Dr. Sameer Sayeed, a cardiologist at ColumbiaDoctors of Somers, NY.

“But this is rarer, as right sided failure is usually caused by left heart failure which would cause dyspnea.”

The “failure” refers to the heart’s right or left ventricles failing to perform efficiently. And dyspnea means shortness of breath.

So what this all means is that many more times than not, a patient will have, in addition to edema from the congestive heart failure, a problem with shortness of breath or getting out of breath fairly easily.

For example, activities that historically did not leave the patient breathing hard, now leave him winded, such as walking up a flight of stairs, walking quickly on an inclined parking lot or lightly playing with the kids in the backyard.

When the excess fluid is in the groin area, it can impose upon the bladder, reducing urine output. This would be visible on a CT scan.

Other Symptoms of Heart Failure

In addition to edema and shortness of breath, CHF can cause nausea, appetite suppression, a cough with white or pinkish phlegm, and chest pain.

Consult with your cardiologist if you have any concerning symptoms including new-onset ankle or lower leg swelling in BOTH legs, which could signal congestive heart failure.

Dr. Sayeed performs echocardiograms and stress tests at the Midtown Manhattan and Westchester offices at Columbia Doctors. He is also trained in cardiac CT imaging.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
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Top image: Shutterstock/futurewalk
Source: mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061