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 should.
Because your heart cannot pump well, your body tries to make up for it. To do this:
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 include:
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:
As heart failure gets worse, fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other parts of your body. This may cause you to:
If your symptoms suddenly get worse, you will need emergency care.
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:
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:
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:
To stay as healthy as possible, work closely with your doctor. Have all your tests, and go to all your appointments. It is also important to:
What can you expect if you have heart failure?
Medicines and lifestyle changes can slow or even reverse heart failure for some people. But heart failure often gets worse over time.
Early on, your symptoms may not be too bad. As heart failure gets worse, you may need to limit your activities. Treatment can often help reduce symptoms, but it usually does not get rid of them.
Heart failure can also lead to other health problems. These may include:
Your doctor may be able to give you medicine or other treatment to prevent or treat these problems.
Heart failure can get worse suddenly. If this happens, you will need emergency care. To prevent sudden heart failure, you need to avoid things that can trigger it. These include eating too much salt, missing a dose of your medicine, and exercising too hard.
You may want to think about planning for the future. A living will lets doctors know what type of life-support measures you want if your health gets much worse. You can also choose a health care agent to make decisions in case you are not able to. It can be comforting to know that you will get the type of care you want.
Knowing that your health may get worse can be hard. It is normal to sometimes feel sad or hopeless. But if these feelings last, talk to your doctor. Antidepressant medicines, counseling, or both may help you cope.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Find out what women really need.