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Heart Failure Complications

Topic Overview

Even if you are treating your heart failure successfully, you may develop a complication that can be serious and life-threatening. It is important to identify complications of heart failure as soon as possible, because some can be extremely serious conditions. You can discuss your complications with your doctor and learn to take the proper steps to prevent them. The table below outlines the complications of heart failure.

Common complications of heart failure

Complication

What is it?

What problems does it cause?

Atrial fibrillation An irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Can make heart failure worse
  • Greatly increases risk of stroke
  • Can cause palpitations
Ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Palpitations
  • Sudden death
Kidney failure Reduced functioning of your kidneys
  • Decreased urine output
  • Fatigue, poor appetite, lethargy
  • Ultimately life-threatening

Anemia

Decreased oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in red blood cells

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • May raise risk of problems linked to heart failure
Stroke Your brain is deprived of oxygen because its blood supply has been significantly decreased or cut off.
  • Loss of cognitive or motor function
  • Can be life-threatening
Heart valve condition (especially mitral regurgitation) A leaky valve reduces the efficiency of the heart's pumping action.
  • Makes heart failure worse
  • Can predispose to atrial fibrillation
  • May need surgical repair
Cardiac cachexia Unintentional severe weight loss
  • Can require supplemental nutrition
  • Can be life-threatening
Leg venous stasis and ulcers

Venous stasis: Your skin thickens and looks shiny or scaly, your hair might also fall out, your skin may also turn brown or reddish.

Ulcers: Injuries to your swollen legs cause fluid to constantly ooze out of cuts in your skin.

  • Can predispose to cellulitis, infection of the skin

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Stephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
Last Revised April 26, 2012

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