This informative article from the National Institute of Health's MedLine Plus, provides valuable insight on heart failure.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Heart failure is often a long-term (chronic) condition, but it can sometimes develop suddenly. It can be caused by many different heart problems. The condition may affect only the right side or only the left side of the heart. These are called right-sided heart failure or left-sided heart failure. More often, both sides of the heart are involved.
Heart failure is present when:
- Your heart muscle cannot pump (eject) the blood out of the heart very well. This is called systolic heart failure.
- Your heart muscles are stiff and do not fill up with blood easily. This is called diastolic heart failure.
These problems mean the heart is no longer able to pump enough oxygen-rich blood out to the rest of your body.
As the heart's pumping becomes less effective, blood may back up in other areas of the body. Fluid may build up in the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and the arms and legs. This is called congestive heart failure.
The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease (CAD), a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. High blood pressure that is not well controlled may also lead to heart failure.
Other heart problems that may cause heart failure are:
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart valve disease (this can occur from valves that are leaky or narrowed)
- Infection that weakens the heart muscle
- Some types of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
Other diseases that can cause or contribute to heart failure:
- Overactive thyroid
- Severe anemia
- Too much iron in the body
- Underactive thyroid
Symptoms of heart failure often begin slowly. At first, they may only occur when you are very active. Over time, you may notice breathing problems and other symptoms even when you are resting.
Heart failure symptoms may also begin suddenly; for example, after a heart attack or other heart problem.
Common symptoms are:
- Fatigue, weakness, faintness
- Loss of appetite
- Need to urinate at night
- Pulse that feels fast or irregular, or a sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath when you are active or after you lie down
- Swollen (enlarged) liver or abdomen
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Waking up from sleep after a couple of hours due to shortness of breath
- Weight gain
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will examine you for signs of heart failure:
- Fast or difficult breathing
- Leg swelling (edema)
- Neck veins that stick out (are distended)
- Sounds ("crackles") from fluid buildup in your lungs, heard through a stethoscope
- Swelling of the liver or abdomen
- Uneven or fast heartbeat and abnormal heart sounds
Many tests are used to diagnose, find the cause of, and monitor heart failure.
An echocardiogram (echo) is often the best test for heart failure. Your doctor will use it to guide your treatment.
Several other imaging tests can look at how well your heart is able to pump blood, and how much the heart muscle is damaged.
Many blood tests are used to:
- Help diagnose and monitor heart failure
- Identify risks for heart disease
- Look for possible causes of heart failure, or problems that may make your heart failure worse
- Monitor for side effects of medicines you may be taking
For more information on heart failure, including treatments (medications and surgeries) as well as End-Stage Heart Failure, visit the MedLine Plus article.