Understanding Heart Failure: Symptoms of Reduced Ejection Fraction

Treatment can help relieve symptoms of heart failure.

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If you have heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, that means your blood flow is not as good as it should be. This can have many effects on the body, and the symptoms of heart failure can be debilitating. The lower your ejection fraction is, the more serious your symptoms may be.

What is reduced ejection fraction?

Ejection fraction is the percentage of blood that gets pumped out of the left ventricle with each beat. The left ventricle is the last chamber of the heart that oxygen-rich blood goes through before being dispersed throughout the body. This chamber fills up with blood and then squeezes out a portion of the blood — usually around 50 to 70 percent — with each heartbeat.

If you have a reduced ejection fraction, that means your heart is squeezing out less than 50 percent of the blood with each beat. As a result, not enough oxygen-rich blood is getting around your body to nourish your other organs.

Here’s how doctors classify ejection fraction:

  • 50-70 percent: Normal ejection fraction
  • 40-49 percent: Borderline reduced ejection fraction
  • Below 40 percent: Reduced ejection fraction

What are the symptoms of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction?

The lower your ejection fraction, the more severe the symptoms may be. For people with borderline reduced ejection fraction, the symptoms may only appear during moderate physical activity. As it progresses, people may have symptoms with basic tasks like walking up stairs. When reduced ejection fraction is severe, symptoms may appear at rest, such as sitting down or lying in bed.

Symptoms of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath with little or no activity
  • Swelling in the ankles and legs
  • Weakness

Luckily, there are many medicines today that can improve heart failure and reduce symptoms. For example, diuretics can reduce the swelling in the legs and lungs that occurs with heart failure, which can minimize discomfort and help you feel a lot better.

If you are having symptoms of heart failure, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. “Heart failure” sounds scary, but it doesn’t actually mean your heart has failed, and it doesn’t mean it can’t get better. Treatment can improve your quality of life with fewer hospitalizations and a longer life.