Locations:
Search IconSearch

Can a Cough Be Related to Heart Issues?

When to be evaluated for a cough that won't improve

woman with persistant cough heart cough

When something is irritating our lungs, or our body is trying to get rid of bacteria trapped in mucus, we understand the coughing will stop as soon as the irritant or infection is gone.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

A persistent cough is another matter, though. The most common causes of a persistent cough are asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But even with these diseases, coughing is minimized when inflammation in your lungs is kept under control.

That’s why if you’ve been diagnosed with asthma or bronchitis, and your cough doesn’t improve with treatment, you should be evaluated for heart failure.

“I have met patients who were first diagnosed as having a respiratory issue,” says heart failure specialist Miriam Jacob, MD. “Over time, when their symptoms didn’t improve with appropriate treatment, heart failure was entertained as a diagnosis.”

Dr. Jacob discusses what a heart cough is and how it’s treated.

What is a heart cough?

In heart failure, your heart muscle has dysfunction that might be due to weak contraction or stiffness. This can allow fluid to back up in your lungs, creating a condition called pulmonary edema. Your body coughs persistently in an effort to eliminate the excess fluid.

Symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath that worsens with exercise or while lying down.
  • Heavy wheezing.
  • A bubbling feeling in your chest.
  • A wet cough with white or pink sputum, or mucus.
  • A dry cough.

“I’ve had patients who come to me after months of being treated with antibiotics or steroids for a persistent cough,” says Dr. Jacob. “Understandably, their physicians treated common medical problems like an upper respiratory infection. When a patient also tells me about weight gain, swelling in the legs or belly and shortness of breath I am suspicious of heart failure. Even vague symptoms of fatigue, nausea or getting full quickly can be signs of heart failure.”

How is a heart cough treated?

If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor. After an exam, your doctor may want to run tests. These can include a blood test, chest X-ray, echocardiogram, electrocardiogram (EKG) stress test, heart catheterization or cardiac MRI.

After determining the type, class and severity of your heart failure, your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes, like:

There are many medications available to treat heart failure. Your doctor may recommend:

Advertisement

“Once heart failure has been diagnosed and appropriate treatment started, the cough should improve or go away,” assures Dr. Jacob. “If it returns, your medications may need adjusting or your angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor changed to an angiotensin receptor blocker.”

Is all coughing a sign of heart failure?

No. There’s a host of reasons you may have a cough.

Irritants or allergens like smoke, mold, dust and pollen can cause you to cough. Certain medical conditions like a cold, flu, pneumonia, acid reflux and sinusitis can also make you cough.

But if you’re experiencing heart cough symptoms or have been diagnosed with asthma or bronchitis and your cough doesn’t improve with treatment, you should talk to your doctor about heart failure.

“It’s important to check in with your doctor if your symptoms of cough aren’t improving after the treatment you’ve been recommended,” says Dr. Jacob. “You should be your own advocate. If you feel that you continue to have a cough that isn’t resolving you could ask to be referred to a pulmonologist or cardiologist to get another opinion.”

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Smiling pregnant person speaking with healthcare provider in medical office
June 14, 2024/Heart Health
Why Your Heart Needs Special Attention When You’re Pregnant

Obesity, age and preexisting heart conditions can all raise your risk of cardiovascular disease during pregnancy

Bowl of artificial sweetener with a spoonful
June 7, 2024/Heart Health
Eating Foods With Xylitol Can Be a Risk to Your Heart

Xylitol in processed food can increase risk of heart attack and stroke — but there’s no danger in xylitol in oral care products

Person coughing into a tissue by window during sunny, summer day
June 4, 2024/Primary Care
Summer Sniffles: Winter Isn’t the Only Time You Can Catch a Cold

Enteroviruses are often to blame for summer colds, leading to a runny nose, sore throat and digestive symptoms

Person standing in kitchen holding glass of water in one hand and medication in the other
May 31, 2024/Heart Health
How To Get Rid of Chest Pain at Home

If your provider has ruled out a serious cause, you can treat chest pain at home with antacids, inhalers or anti-inflammatory medications

Hand holding cellphone with walking app, with feet walking and footprints
May 17, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Should You Aim To Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

Walking is a great goal, but how many steps are best for you depends on factors like your fitness level and age

Healthcare provider listening to a patient's heart with stethoscope in exam room
Is Joint Pain Linked to Heart Disease?

Research shows a strong association between rheumatoid arthritis and heart issues

Heart-healthy foods in a heart-shaped dish on wooden table with other heart-shaped filled bowls
April 26, 2024/Nutrition
Heart-Healthy Foods To Add to Your Grocery List

Eating more natural, whole foods can lower your risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases

Person reclining on couch wearing compression socks
April 3, 2024/Heart Health
How To Raise Your Blood Pressure Immediately at Home

First things first — slowly sit or lie down

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad