Are Swollen Feet a Sign of Heart Failure?

Your heart is the hardest-working muscle, pumping an average of 2,000 gallons of blood a day. So when something goes wrong with it, your body will quickly let you know.

Heart failure happens when it can’t pump enough blood to keep your organs working normally. One major sign of heart failure is swollen feet, or edema. The swelling comes from fluid trapped inside the tissues of your body.

Heart failure causes swelling in your feet because the kidneys aren’t getting enough oxygen to properly filter your blood. When that happens, your body keeps the extra fluid and waste products inside your body.

Heart failure also causes a backup of blood, which causes the body to hold on to extra fluid outside of the arteries or veins. This results in swelling in the feet.

swollen feet and ankles

Richard Jacyno / Getty Images

Warning Signs of Heart Failure

In addition to edema, there are a few other signs of heart failure, including:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing: This can happen during exercise or when lying down. If shortness of breath wakes you up from sleep, you need immediate medical treatment.
  • Stomach upset: You can also have a bloated stomach, nausea, or loss of appetite.
  • Confusion: This happens because your brain is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood.
  • Swelling: Your feet, ankles, or stomach can be swollen. You may also experience sudden weight gain.

Heart Failure and Edema

Edema develops when water gets trapped in your body tissues. This results in swelling, usually in your feet or ankles, but it can also affect your entire body.

As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing fluid to build up in tissues. The kidneys are less able to get rid of sodium and water in the body, which also causes fluid retention in tissues.

Other Causes of Edema

Heart failure is not the only cause of swelling in the feet. Allergic reactions, burns, trauma, blood clots, or severe inflammation can cause edema as well.

Other causes can include:

  • Gravity: If you’ve been sitting or standing in one place for too long, gravity gradually pulls the fluid in your body down to your legs and feet.
  • Varicose veins: Veins in your legs can’t get blood back up to your heart, causing blood to collect in your legs.
  • Medications: Blood pressure or pain medications can cause swelling.
  • High salt intake: You may not be aware that your sodium intake is high. Processed or packaged foods, olives, legumes, and cheese can have high amounts of sodium.
  • Pregnancy: As the baby grows, the uterus puts pressure on the blood vessels in the lower half of your body.
  • Thyroid disease: Both hypothyroidism (your thyroid gland doesn't make enough thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (your thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone) can cause edema.

When to See a Doctor

Because there are different causes of swollen feet, that symptom alone may not be reason enough to seek medical attention. Swelling can also be temporary or permanent. Consider the following factors when making the decision on whether to call your doctor:

  • Medical history: Patients with chronic heart failure or lung disease may have exacerbations, periods when symptoms are worse, that cause edema. If you’re on medications for any chronic illness, one of them could be causing edema as well. Always talk to your doctor before stopping any medication.
  • Sudden onset of symptoms: No matter what your medical history is, if you experience sudden pain, redness, or swelling on any area of your body or shortness of breath, call your doctor immediately.

Outlook

Depending on the cause, the swelling may go away on its own. The outcome will depend on the cause. For example, if swelling occurs postpartum, it should subside within a week after giving birth. If you’ve been eating too much salt, going on a low- or no-salt diet should clear up symptoms.

If the culprit is a chronic condition such as heart failure, varicose veins, or liver, kidney, or thyroid disease, your healthcare provider will create or amend your treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout the body. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, persistent cough, swollen feet, and weight gain.

What causes congestive heart failure?

The most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. More men have heart failure than women.

What are the four stages of heart failure?

The four stages of heart failure are A (high risk of developing heart failure), B (left ventricular dysfunction, usually without symptoms), C (heart failure with symptoms), and D (advanced symptoms that do not improve with treatment).

How long can you live with heart failure?

The life expectancy for people diagnosed with heart failure ranges from two to 10 years. This will depend on the patient's age and the presence of other chronic diseases.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

The results of a physical examination may strongly suggest heart failure. However, the diagnosis will be verified through blood tests, chest X-ray, echocardiogram, or stress test.

Summary

Swelling of the feet is a common sign of heart failure. You may also notice swelling in your legs, ankles, and stomach. Many things can cause swelling, so it's important to see your doctor to diagnose the cause. If you have a family history of heart failure and other risk factors, check in with your doctor to make sure you address your condition as soon as possible.

A Word From Verywell

It can be alarming to notice a substantial change in your body, such as swollen feet. Heart failure is a major cause of swelling, but other less serious conditions can also cause swelling. Whether the cause is a heart condition or a recent change in medication or diet, the swelling can be managed. It’s important for a healthcare provider to diagnose the cause so you can get treatment as soon as possible.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Heart facts infographic.

  2. American Heart Association. What is heart failure? Updated May 31, 2017.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Edema. Updated October 22, 2018.

  4. American Heart Association. Types of heart failure. Updated May 31, 2017.

  5. American Heart Association. Shaking the salt habit to lower blood pressure. Updated October 31, 2016.

  6. Medline Plus. Heart failure. Updated July 22, 2019.

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Heart failure: understanding heart failure. Updated May 20, 2020.

  8. Jones NR, Hobbs FR, Taylor CJ. Prognosis following a diagnosis of heart failure and the role of primary care: a review of the literature. BJGP Open. 2017 Oct 4;1(3):bjgpopen17X101013. doi:10.3399/bjgpopen17X101013