Common symptoms can lead to confusion of the flu with a serious condition of heart failure

There are many serious diseases that are often misdiagnosed as something as minor as a common cold, and as a cardiovascular nurse I have seen patients that were misdiagnosed with the flu or a respiratory infection only to be properly diagnosed days or weeks later with heart failure.  It is this delay in proper treatment that can cause irreversible damage to the heart that can possibly result in a need for a permanent ventricular assist device or heart transplant.   Although you may have one or all of these symptoms, occasionally people with weakened or abnormal heart muscles do not have any symptoms.

Congested lungs (caused by fluid backing up in the lungs).  This symptom is the primary reason heart failure is misdiagnosed because many general practitioners diagnose a cough and congested lungs as respiratory infection.  This symptom is brought on by the heart’s inability to pump blood properly through the body.  In heart failure the decreased blood flow to the kidneys will also cause swelling in one’s ankles and abdomen.

Fatigue and weakness during any activity.  This symptom may also be chalked up to general malaise brought on by a flu virus.  In actuality this weakness is brought on by decreased blood flow to one’s major organs and muscles. 

Heart beating faster (palpitations).  While one will display tachycardia (fast heart rate) if one has an infection, it is also true that it would be present in heart failure.  To tell if your heart rate is fast, count the pulse on your wrist for one minute.  If your heart rate is greater than 100 beats per minute then you have tachycardia.  Also, while you are counting notice if there is any irregularity.  Heart beats out of “rhythm” is a source of concern and should be addressed by a health professional.

A feeling of dizziness or actually fainting (syncope).  While sometimes misdiagnosed as side effects of an infection, this is brought on decreased blood flow to major organs and muscles.

Chest discomfort.  A healthcare provider might misconstrue the chest discomfort as muscle soreness from coughing.  Many times respiratory chest discomfort will change with one’s breathing – cardiac chest pain remains constant and will often radiate to other parts of the body.

          If you are experiencing any of these symptoms discuss it with your doctor. An accurately read 12 lead EKG can help determine if the symptoms are related to the flu or if the diagnosis is cardiac in nature.  Depending on the cause, if detected early heart failure can often be treated with medication and a change in diet and in some cases improve function of the heart