Heart Failure - Topic Overview
An echocardiogram is the best and
simplest way to find out if you have heart failure, what type it is, and what
is causing it. Your doctor can also use it to see if your heart failure is
getting worse. It can measure how much blood your heart pumps to your body.
This measurement is called the
ejection fraction. If your ejection fraction gets
lower and you are having more symptoms, it means that your
heart failure is getting worse.
How is it treated?
Most people with heart failure need to take several
medicines. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to:
- Help keep heart failure from getting worse. These drugs include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor
blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and vasodilators like hydralazine and
- Reduce symptoms so you feel better.
These drugs include diuretics (water pills), digoxin, and potassium.
- Treat the cause of your heart
It is very important to take your medicines exactly as
your doctor tells you to. If you don't, your heart failure could get worse.
Depending on the cause of your heart failure, you might need
surgery to help your heart work better. For example:
Lifestyle changes are an important part of treatment.
They can help slow down heart failure. They may also help control other
diseases that make heart failure worse, such as high blood pressure, diabetes,
and coronary artery disease. The best steps you can take are to:
- Eat less salt (sodium). Sodium causes your body to retain water and makes it
harder for your heart to pump. Your doctor may also ask you to
limit how much fluid you drink.
- Get regular exercise. Your doctor can
tell you what level of exercise is safe for you, how to check your
pulse, and how to know if you are doing too much.
- Take rest breaks during the day.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Even
a few pounds can make a difference.
- Stop smoking. Smoking damages your
heart and makes exercise harder to do.
- Limit alcohol. Ask your doctor how
much, if any, is safe.
To stay as healthy as possible, work closely with your
doctor. Have all your tests, and go to all your appointments. It is also
- Talk to your doctor before you take any
new medicine, including nonprescription and prescription drugs, vitamins, and
herbs. Some of them may make your heart failure worse.
- Keep track of your symptoms. Weigh yourself at the
same time every day, and write down your weight. Call your doctor if
you have a sudden weight gain, a change in your ability to exercise, or any
sudden change in your symptoms.
What can you expect if you have heart failure?