While the term heart failure can be alarming, it does not mean the heart has stopped working. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump efficiently enough to meet the body's need for nutrient-rich blood.
Heart failure often develops after other conditions, such as coronary heart disease or high blood pressure, have damaged or weakened the heart. Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the normal demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of your body.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with heart failure, learning more about it can help you cope. This section contains information about heart failure, its symptoms, and the tests used to diagnose heart failure.
Heart failure is a serious condition, and usually there's no cure. But many people with heart failure lead a full, enjoyable life when the condition is managed with heart failure medications and healthy lifestyle changes. Read more about these treatment options in Treatment.
The first symptom of heart failure is generally fatigue. As the Heart Disease Research Institute describes, this occurs because your heart is weaker and pumping less blood to your organs and muscles, making you feel weak. Your body naturally senses that it must divert blood away from your muscles and less vital organs and send more blood to your brain. As the condition worsens, other symptoms of heart failure can include:
See your doctor if you think you might be experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of heart failure above. Seek emergency treatment if you experience chest pain, fainting or severe weakness, or rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting.
Contrary to its name, heart failure does not mean that the heart has failed completely. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump efficiently enough to meet the body's need for nutrient-rich blood.
Heart failure often develops after other conditions, such as coronary heart disease or high blood pressure, have damaged or weakened your heart. Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the normal demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of your body. The main pumping chambers of your heart may become stiff and not fill properly between beats and your heart muscle may weaken and dilate to the point that the heart can't pump blood efficiently throughout your body.
The inefficient pumping associated with heart failure causes a backup of blood in the veins leading to the heart. It triggers the kidneys to retain fluid, and as a result, the body's tissues swell. The swelling most commonly affects the legs, but it can also occur in other tissues and organs. When it occurs in the lungs, it causes breathing difficulty. See symptoms for more details.
Heart failure can involve the left side, right side or both sides of your heart. Typically, heart failure begins with the left side — specifically the left ventricle, your heart's main pumping chamber. When heart failure affects mainly the left side of the heart, the symptoms are more likely to involve breathing difficulties, according to Harvard Health . When mainly the right side is affected, the main symptoms may be leg swelling and abdominal swelling.
Firstly, your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical examination to check for heart failure risk factors. No single test can diagnose heart failure. If you have signs and symptoms of heart failure, your doctor may also order some of these tests:
Early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have heart failure live longer, more active lives. Treatment for heart failure will depend on the severity of the condition. A variety of approaches can be taken in treating and managing heart failure, which include:
The key to preventing heart failure is to reduce your risk factors of the various forms of heart disease that lead to it. To prevent heart disease:
For detailed information about heart disease prevention guidelines, see Coronary Heart Disease Prevention.