Shortness of breath is the most common symptom of congestive heart failure, states MedicineNet. It may be due to fluid in the lungs or insufficient blood pumped to the organs in times of stress.
The shortness of breath can occur with activity or exertion or while lying flat, or it can awaken an individual from sleep. Chest pain may be present, especially if the underlying cause of the failure is atherosclerotic heart disease, explains MedicineNet. Patients with right heart failure leak fluid into the tissue and organs that deliver blood to the right heart through the vena cava. Pressure in blood vessels causes leakage into the space between cells causing fluid to accumulate in the feet and ankles that may gradually rise up to involve the legs. The liver and abdomen can swell as fluid accumulates. The individual may feel bloated and nauseous, and he may have pain and abdominal distension.
The causes of congestive heart failure are poorly controlled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and family history, notes MedicineNet. It can be a complication of other diseases, such as sleep apnea, alcohol and drug abuse, infections, and connective tissue disorders, such as lupus. Many patients with stable congestive heart failure decompensate when a complicating condition occurs, such as pneumonia, an infection of the lungs or a heart attack.