Heart Failure

Overview

 

Heart failure, sometimes known as congestive heart failure, occurs when your heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should. Certain conditions, such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure, gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.

Not all conditions that lead to heart failure can be reversed, but treatments can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer. Lifestyle changes — such as exercising, reducing sodium in your diet, managing stress and losing weight — can improve your quality of life.

One way to prevent heart failure is to prevent and control conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.

Symptoms

 

Heart failure can be ongoing (chronic), or your condition may start suddenly (acute).

Heart failure signs and symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Reduced ability to exercise

  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm

  • Increased need to urinate at night

  • Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)

  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention

  • Lack of appetite and nausea

  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness

  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

  • Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack

When to see a doctor

 

See your doctor if you think you might be experiencing signs or symptoms of heart failure. Seek emergency treatment if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain

  • Fainting or severe weakness

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting

  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

Although these signs and symptoms may be due to heart failure, there are many other possible causes, including other life-threatening heart and lung conditions. Don't try to diagnose yourself. Call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate help. Emergency room doctors will try to stabilize your condition and determine if your symptoms are due to heart failure or something else.