Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Failure
1. What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. Rather, it means
that the heart's pumping power is weaker than normal. With heart failure, blood
moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, and pressure in the heart
increases. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to
meet the body's needs. The chambers of the heart respond by stretching to hold
more blood to pump through the body. This helps to keep the blood moving, but
in time, the heart muscle walls weaken and are unable to pump as strongly. As a
result, the kidneys often respond by causing the body to retain fluid (water)
and sodium. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, or other
organs, the body becomes congested. Congestive heart failure is the term used
to describe this condition.
2. What Are the Symptoms of Heart Failure?
The symptoms of heart failure are related to the changes that
occur to your heart and body, and may be moderate to severe, depending on how
weak your heart is. The
symptoms can include:
- Congested lungs. Fluid back up in the lungs can cause shortness of breath
with exercise or difficulty breathing at rest which is often worse when lying
flat in bed. Lung congestion can also cause a dry, hacking cough or
- Fluid and water retention. Less blood to your kidneys causes fluid and
water retention, resulting in swollen ankles, legs, and abdomen (called edema)
and weight gain. Symptoms may cause an increased need to urinate during the
night. Bloating in your stomach may cause a loss of appetite or nausea.
- Dizziness, fatigue, and weakness. Less blood to your major organs and
muscles makes you feel tired and weak. Less blood to the brain can cause
dizziness or confusion.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats. The heart beats faster to pump enough blood
to the body. This can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.
If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these
symptoms or you may have none of them. In addition, your symptoms may not be
related to how weak your heart is; you may have many symptoms but your heart
function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a more severely damaged
heart but have no symptoms.
3. What Is the Outlook for People With Heart Failure?
If you have heart failure, your prognosis or outlook for the future will
depend on how well your heart muscle is functioning, your symptoms, and how
well you respond to and follow your treatment plan. With the right care, heart
failure will not stop you from doing the things you enjoy.