If you feel short of breath when you sleep with just one pillow, this could be a sign of heart failure.
We all have certain pillow preferences. You might prefer a single, flat pillow; your partner might need to surround himself with 10 separate pillows of all different sizes in order to nod off. (Psst—here’s how to pick the perfect pillow for the best night’s sleep!)
But your pillow choices could be a sign of more than just your personal preferences. Cardiologist Dennis A. Goodman, MD, explains that people with congestive heart failure commonly feel more comfortable when they sleep with multiple pillows.
Here’s why: People with heart failure tend to experience shortness of breath while they lie flat; this discomfort goes away when they sit up. Difficulty breathing can obviously hinder your ability to sleep, so stacking multiple pillows relieves the discomfort and helps with sleep. If you’ve noticed yourself or a family member recently experiencing shortness of breath while lying down or needing more pillows than usual in order to sleep well at night, this could be a red flag for heart failure symptoms.
It might seem strange to feel short of breath while lying down (as opposed to jogging or taking the stairs), but it has to do with the fluids in your body. When you lie down, fluid recirculates from the legs and puts increased pressure on the lungs and cardiovascular system, which means a weakened heart (one with heart failure) has to work harder to pump.
If you are experiencing shortness of breath while lying down and have not yet discussed this with a doctor, schedule an appointment soon to get tested for heart failure and—if necessary—get treatment for your heart failure symptoms.
Dr. Goodman is board-certified in cardiology, internal medicine, lipidology, integrative medicine, and cardiac CT. He is the director of integrative medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center and a clinical professor of medicine at NYU.
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One of the symptoms of heart failure
is shortness of breath laying flat.
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Naturally, patients go, well,
I feel better when I sit up, and
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they use pillows.
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So we see some patients who say
I'm sleeping on three pillows.
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And the reason that happens is
at night when you're laying down
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fluid is absorbed from the legs and
gets into the vascular system.
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It makes it harder for the heart to pump.
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There's increased pressure in the lungs,
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you'll end up with fluid in the lungs and
that makes you short of breath.
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And that's why people often come in,
say you know,
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I'm much better when I sleep on one,
two, or three pillows.