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Heart Failure and Leg Fatigue

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Heart Failure related image Photo: Getty Images

Congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a serious heart condition. The heart of people with CHF, sometimes simply referred to as heart failure, is unable to do its job properly and pump enough blood to supply the body with needed blood and oxygen.

As a result, congestive heart failure may lead to life-threatening conditions such as kidney damage or failure, problems with heart valves, liver damage, heart attack, and stroke. In some cases, CHF may even lead to sudden death or require a heart transplant.

Congestive heart failure is characterized by a variety of symptoms including fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and irregular heartbeat. People with CHF may experience swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet, limited ability to exercise, a persistent cough and wheezing. Swelling of the abdomen, weight gain from fluid retention, loss of appetite, nausea, difficulty concentrating, and reduced alertness may also occure.

For most congestive heart failure patients, their condition and prognosis can be improved by implementing lifestyle changes designed to reduce risk factors that make CHF worse, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and coronary artery disease. Effective lifestyle changes include stress management, losing weight, reducing dietary salt, and of course, exercising.

Exacerbated by CHF fatigue and shortness of breath, one of the major complaints for congestive heart failure patients engaging in exercise, or even normal activities such as walking, is leg fatigue. According to a University of Leeds study, researchers found that leg fatigue and leg muscle dysfunction, is directly proportionate to CHF severity.

During the course of the study, researchers examined how quickly the leg muscles, along with the heart and lungs, responded after CHF patients engaged in moderate warm-ups. Researchers found that moderate exercise warm-ups increased muscle enzymes related to energy production. In other words, moderate warm-ups improved oxygenation of leg muscles.

In addition, researchers found a direct correlation between the severity of congestive heart failure symptoms and the benefits gained from the warm-ups. Findings indicate that CHF negatively impacts leg muscle function and that the leg muscles themselves are impaired.

Researchers believe that in addition to treating the heart muscle, physicians should also treat leg muscles in CHF patients with a regular dose of exercise. Warming up the muscles improves oxygenation and delivers it directly where it’s needed most. By improving leg muscle oxygenation, the ability to walk or exercise may be improved which may result in an improved prognosis for CHF patients.


University of Leeds (2011, October 31). Targeting leg fatigue in heart failure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111031120239.htm

Heart Failure. The Mayo Clinic. 22 Mar 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061

Reviewed December 13, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments


Hello Anon.. Thank you so much for posting your experience. I appreciate you sharing your experience because you bring up an important point - people need to seek treatment even if they think they aren't at risk. This is one time where it is much better to ere on the side of caution.  I hope that all goes well with you and your health.


December 28, 2011 - 5:30pm
EmpowHER Guest

I was recently diagnosed with a severe case of heart failure. I was an unlikely candidate.

I have never smoked, I'm not overweight, my cholesterol levels are good, I don't have high blood pressure, and there's no heart disease in my immediate family.

Now when I read the major symptoms, it seems it would have been obvious. But I was an unlikely candidate, and there were other things that were reasonable to blame my symptoms on.

If you have any symptoms, even if it seems unlikely, get tested. The easiest test is for BNP, a protein in the bloodstream of people with heart failure. An echocardiogram is the definitive test to confirm the condition.

December 14, 2011 - 10:31am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.