- What is heart failure?
- Who can have heart failure?
- What causes heart failure?
- What are the symptoms of heart failure?
- How can doctors tell if I have heart failure?
- Can my doctor treat my heart failure?
- What types of medicines can treat heart failure?
- What can I do if I have heart failure?
- Try to be more comfortable
- Manage your medicines
- Keep in touch with your doctor or health care team
- Have a healthy lifestyle
- How can I prevent heart failure?
- Resources In This Article
(Congestive Heart Failure)
Heart failure is when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped (that's called cardiac arrest).
Your heart pumps blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body
If you have heart failure, your heart pumps less blood
That causes fluid to back up in your lungs and other body parts
Extra fluid in your lungs makes it hard to breathe
Extra fluid in your legs makes them swell
If your kidneys don’t get enough blood, they make less urine so the body has more fluid
That extra fluid makes your heart work even harder
Then, your heart failure can get even worse
The extra fluid in your body is called “congestion.” That’s why heart failure is sometimes called “congestive heart failure.”
Anyone can have heart failure, even young children (especially children born with a heart defect). However, it’s much more common in older people, because:
Any problem that makes your heart weak or stiff can cause heart failure. Common examples of such problems are:
Other problems that can cause heart failure are an irregular heart rhythym, low number of red blood cells (anemia), thyroid gland problems, and heart muscle infections.
Most disorders cause heart failure only after many years. However, some disorders, such as a major heart attack, can cause heart failure quickly.
Often, a person’s heart failure has more than one cause.
Symptoms usually develop slowly. At first you may feel out of breath only when you climb stairs and notice only a little leg swelling at the end of the day. Later, you may feel out of breath or tired when you do ordinary activities. When heart failure is severe, you may be out of breath even sitting in a chair and have a lot of leg swelling all the time.
Doctors first suspect heart failure based on your symptoms. To make sure they’re right, they’ll do a physical exam, a chest x-ray, and tests to tell how well your heart is working. Common heart function tests are:
Electrocardiography: a quick, painless, and harmless test that measures your heart’s electrical function
Echocardiography and Other Ultrasound Procedures (also called an echo): a type of ultrasound that uses sound waves to create a video that shows how well your heart is pumping and how well your heart’s valves are working
There are many different types of medicines that help treat heart failure. Some of the more common types are:
ACE inhibitors: widen your blood vessels to lower blood pressure so your heart doesn't have to work as hard, and help your kidneys get rid of extra water
Beta-blockers: slow your heart rate so your heart doesn't have to work as hard, and can help a stiff heart relax so it fills with blood better
Diuretics (water pills): help your kidneys get rid of the extra water by making you urinate more
If you have very bad heart failure that isn’t responding to medicines, doctors may suggest a heart transplant or a mechanical device that helps pump blood.
Weigh yourself every day (use the same scale at the same time of day while wearing a similar amount of clothing) and write down your weight so you know if you are retaining too much fluid
Pay attention to your symptoms each day
If your weight increases by more than a few pounds or your symptoms start to get worse, let your health care team know