Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 12, 2020

What Is Heart Failure?

When you have this condition your heart works less efficiently. When that happens, it can't pump enough blood that you need.

The chambers of your heart can respond by stretching to hold more blood to pump. This helps to keep the blood moving, but in time, your heart muscle walls may weaken and won't be able to pump as strongly.

Your kidneys may react to all this by causing your body to hold on to fluid and salt. The fluid may build up in your arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs.

What Are the Symptoms?

They may be mild, moderate, or severe, and can include things like:

Congested lungs. Fluid backup in your lungs can make you short of breath when you exercise or have trouble breathing while you rest. Air is often harder to get when you're lying flat in bed. You may also wheeze or get a dry, hacking cough.

Fluid and water buildup. Less blood to your kidneys causes you to hang on to fluid. That means your ankles, legs, and belly may swell. You may hear your doctor call that swelling edema.


The extra fluid can also make you gain weight, and you may need to pee more during the night. It may also cause bloating, which can make you nauseated and less hungry.

Dizziness, fatigue, and weakness. Less blood to your major organs and muscles makes you feel tired and weak. Less blood to the brain can bring dizziness or confusion.

Rapid or irregular heartbeats. This happens because your heart beats faster to pump enough blood.

If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these symptoms, or you may have none of them.

Your symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is.

What's the Outlook for People With Heart Failure?

A lot depends on how well your heart is working, your symptoms, and how well you follow and respond to your treatment plan. With the right care, heart failure may not stop you from doing the things you enjoy.

Which Medicines Are Used to Treat It?

Some common types are:


  • ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors)
  • Aldosterone antagonists 
  • ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers)
  • ARNIs (angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Blood vessel dilators
  • Digoxin
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Heart pump medications
  • Potassium or magnesium
  • Selective sinus node inhibitors
  • Soluble Guanylate Cyclase (sGC) stimulator

Module: video
coughing woman
Warning Signs of Heart FailureA weak ticker doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. Treatment can help, so be on guard for symptoms of heart failure.68



various signs and symptoms

of heart failure and people can

exhibit one or many

of those signs

that you have to watch out for.

For example, shortness of breath

with exertion

can be a sign of heart failure.

If you are used to walking

to your mailbox

or up a flight of stairs

without problems and then you

start noticing that it's a real

difficult task, this could be

a sign of heart failure.

Swelling in the legs or just

a generalized increase

in weight over a fairly abrupt

few days

can be the sign of a retention

of fluid and you need to talk

to your doctor about that.

A dry cough and having to prop

yourself up at night because

of the dry cough

or because of shortness

of breath can be a sign

that the body is retaining fluid

and you need to identify that

and talk to your physician

about those new symptoms.

Andrew Kobylivker, MD<br>Cardiologist/delivery/99/6e/996e892c-55c6-4862-93c9-2c83bd8d9e86/vd-1714-warning-signs-heart-failure_,1000k,400k,750k,2500k,4500k,.mp411/29/2016 00:00:00650350coughing woman/webmd/consumer_assets/site_images/article_thumbnails/video/heart_failure_warning_signs_video/650x350_heart_failure_warning_signs_video.jpg091e9c5e81543712

What Is Cardiac Rehabilitation?

It's a program to help you exercise safely and keep up a heart-healthy lifestyle. It usually includes workouts that are designed just for you, education, and tips to lower your chance of heart trouble, like quitting smoking or changing your diet.

Cardiac rehab also offers emotional support. You can meet others like you who can help you stay on track.

How Much Salt Can I Have?

If you have heart failure, you should have no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt every day.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

If you have anything unusual, don't wait until your next appointment to discuss it with your doctor. Call them right away if you have:

  • Unexplained weight gain -- 2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, or belly that gets worse
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse or happens more often, especially if you wake up feeling that way
  • Bloating with a loss of appetite or nausea
  • Extreme fatigue or more trouble finishing your daily activities
  • A lung infection or a cough that gets worse
  • Fast heart rate (above 100 beats per minute, or a rate noted by your doctor)
  • New irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort during activity that gets better if you rest
  • Trouble breathing during regular activities or at rest
  • Changes in how you sleep,like having a hard time sleeping or feeling the need to sleep a lot more than usual
  • Less of a need to pee
  • Restlessness, confusion
  • Constant dizziness or light-headedness
  • Nausea or poor appetite

When Should I Get Emergency Care?

Go to your local emergency room or call 911 if you have:

  • New, unexplained, and severe chest pain that comes with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, or weakness
  • Fast heart rate (more than 120-150 beats per minute, or a rate noted by your doctor) -- especially if you are short of breath
  • Shortness of breath that doesn't get better if you rest
  • Sudden weakness, or you can't move your arms or legs
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Fainting spells
WebMD Medical Reference



Heart Failure Society of America: "Learn More About Heart Failure."

American Heart Association: "Heart Failure."

National Institutes of Health: "How Is Heart Failure Treated?"

International Journal of clinical Practice: “Ivabradine -- the first selective sinus node If channel inhibitor in the treatment of stable angina.”

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