Heart Failure - Topic Overview
What is heart failure?
Heart failure means that your heart muscle doesn't
pump as much blood as your body needs. Failure doesn't mean that your heart
has stopped. It means that your heart is not pumping as well as it
Because your heart cannot pump well, your body tries to
make up for it. To do this:
- Your body holds on to salt and water. This increases the
amount of blood in your bloodstream.
- Your heart beats faster.
- Your heart gets bigger .
Your body has an amazing ability to make up for heart
failure. It may do such a good job that you don't know you have a disease. But
at some point, your heart and body will no longer be able
to keep up. Then fluid starts to build up in your body, and you have symptoms
like feeling weak and out of breath.
This fluid buildup is called
congestion. It's why some doctors call the disease congestive heart failure.
Heart failure usually gets worse over time. But treatment can
slow the disease and help you feel better and live longer.
What causes heart failure?
Anything that damages
your heart or affects how well it pumps can lead to heart failure. Common causes of heart failure are:
Other conditions that can lead to heart failure
- Diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies).
- Heart valve disease.
- Disease of the sac around the heart (pericardial disease), such
- A slow, fast, or uneven heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
- A heart problem that you were born with (congenital heart defect).
- Long-term alcohol abuse, which can damage your heart.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of heart failure
start to happen when your heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of your
body. In the early stages, you may:
- Feel tired easily.
- Be short of breath when you exert
- Feel like your heart is pounding or
- Feel weak or dizzy.
As heart failure gets worse, fluid starts to build up in
your lungs and other parts of your body. This may cause you to:
- Feel short of breath even at
- Have swelling (edema), especially in
your legs, ankles, and feet.
- Gain weight. This may happen over just
a day or two, or more slowly.
- Cough or wheeze, especially when you
- Need to urinate more at night.
- Feel bloated or sick to your stomach.
If your symptoms suddenly get worse, you will need
How is heart failure diagnosed?
Your doctor may
diagnose heart failure based on your symptoms and a physical exam. But you will
need tests to find the cause and type of heart failure so that you can get the
right treatment. These tests may include:
- Blood tests.
- A chest
electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) to check your heart's electrical system.
echocardiogram to see the size and shape of your heart
and how well it is pumping.
- Cardiac catheterization to check your heart and its
blood vessels (coronary arteries).
- A stress
test to look for coronary artery disease.