Heart failure means the heart has failed to pump the way it should in order to circulate oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
Warning signs and symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Commonly occurs at rest or when sleeping
- May worsen at night when lying flat and patients may only be able to sleep sitting up
- Chronic coughing or wheezing
- Cough may produce white or pink blood-tinged mucus
- Accumulation of excess fluid in the body’s tissues (edema)
- Swelling may occur in the feet (shoes may feel tight), ankles, legs, or abdomen
- May cause weight gain
- Fatigue/tiredness all the time
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full all the time
- Problems thinking
- Memory loss
- Heart palpitations
- Exercise intolerance
- Chest pain (rare)
What Causes Heart Failure?
Heart failure is caused by a weakened or thickened heart muscle.
Most people who develop heart failure have another heart condition, including:
- Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia or dysrhythmia)
- Abnormal heart valves
- Heart disease present at birth (congenital heart disease)
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart muscle disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) or inflammation (myocarditis)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Previous heart attack
Risk factors for developing heart failure include:
How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?
Heart failure is diagnosed with a physical exam which includes a doctor listening to the heart with a stethoscope.
Tests to help diagnose heart failure include:
- Blood tests
- Exercise stress test
- Chest X-ray
- Echocardiography (“echo”)
- Electrocardiograms (ECG or EKG)
- Cardiac catheterization
- Radionuclide ventriculography or multiple-gated acquisition scanning (MUGA)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
What Is the Treatment for Heart Failure?
Heart failure is treated with lifestyle and diet changes, medications, and sometimes implanted devices. In severe cases, a heart transplant may be needed.
Lifestyle changes to treat heart failure include:
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting liquid intake to reduce fluid buildup
- Eating a heart-healthy diet low in fat and sodium and high in fiber (plant-based diets may be helpful for heart patients)
- Exercising regularly
- Losing weight
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol
- Limiting or avoiding caffeine
- Practicing stress reduction techniques such as meditation or yoga
- Controlling blood pressure
- Getting adequate sleep
- Getting regular flu and pneumonia vaccinations
Medications used to treat heart failure and improve heart muscle function include:
- Diuretics (water pills)
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)