Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart’s muscle  gets injured from something like a heart attack or high blood pressure and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs.

What are the most common types of heart failure?

  • Systolic dysfunction, where the heart muscle may become weak and enlarged. The weakened muscle doesn’t pump enough blood forward when the ventricles contract.
  • Diastolic dysfunction, where the heart muscle may become stiff. The stiff muscle can’t relax between contractions, which keeps the ventricles from filling with enough blood.

What are the risk factors for heart failure?

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Fat deposits creating blockages in the heart’s arteries (coronary artery disease)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Damage to the heart valves or history of a heart murmur (valvular heart disease)
  • Heart muscle disease and enlargement of the heart (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart defects at birth (congenital heart disease)
  • Family history of enlarged heart (Familial cardiomyopathy)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea (Cor pulmonale)
  • Severe lung disease (Cor pulmonale)

How is heart failure diagnosed?

  • X-rays, which take pictures of your heart and lungs.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), which records the way electrical signals travel through your heart.
  • An echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound waves to show the structure and movement of your heart muscle.
  • Lab tests, which evaluate small amounts of blood or urine for signs of problems.

What other tests help detect heart problems?

  • Stress testing, which measures your heart’s response to activity. This may be done while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Or, you may be given medication that stresses the heart. A stress test helps your doctor measure how hard your heart can work. An echocardiogram or other imaging test may be done before and after a stress test to see how your heart responds.
  • Cardiac catheterization, which helps detect clogged blood vessels. X-ray dye is injected into the heart through a catheter (thin tube). Then, an angiogram (special type of X-ray) is taken of the blood vessels. Cardiac catheterization can also show problems with pumping, heart chambers, blood flow or valves.
  • Holter monitoring, which can help detect an abnormal heartbeat. A portable monitor is connected to your chest with soft pads. The monitor records changes to your heart’s rhythm over several hours or days.

How is heart failure treated?

  • Medications to help your heart work better and improve your quality of life.
  • Changes in what you eat and drink to help prevent fluid from backing up into your body.
  • Daily monitoring of your weight and heart failure symptoms to see how well your treatment plan is working.
  • Exercise to help you stay healthy.
  • Help with quitting smoking.

When should someone call a doctor for their heart?

Call your doctor if:

  • You have tightness or pain in your chest, arm or jaw. (Call 9-1-1)
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You notice new symptoms from your medication.
  • Breathing becomes more difficult or you start coughing at night.
  • You gain weight rapidly.
  • Your feet or ankles swell more than usual.
  • You get tired more easily.
  • You have dizzy spells or you faint.
  • Your abdomen swells.
  • Your heart beats faster than normal.


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