Heart Failure

Topic Overview

Illustration of the heart

What is heart failure?

Heart failure means that your heart muscle does not pump as much blood as your body needs. Failure does not 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 holds on to salt and water. This increases the amount of blood in your bloodstream.
  • Your heart beats faster.
  • Your heart gets bigger. See a picture of an enlarged heart.

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. The most common causes of heart failure are:

CAD and heart attack are the most common causes of heart failure in men. In women, high blood pressure is the most common cause.1

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:

  • Feel tired easily.
  • Be short of breath when you exert yourself.
  • Feel like your heart is pounding or racing (palpitations).
  • Feel weak or dizzy.

As heart failure gets worse, fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other parts of your body. This may cause you to:

  • Feel short of breath even at rest.
  • Have swelling (edema), especially in your legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Gain weight. This may happen over just a day or two, or more slowly.
  • Cough or wheeze, especially when you lie down.
  • Need to urinate more at night.
  • Feel bloated or sick to your stomach.

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:

  • Help keep heart failure from getting worse. These drugs include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and vasodilators like hydralazine and nitroglycerin.
  • Reduce symptoms so you feel better. These drugs include diuretics (water pills), digoxin, and potassium.
  • Treat the cause of your heart failure.

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:

  • You might have bypass surgery or angioplasty to open clogged arteries, or you may need surgery to repair or replace a heart valve.
  • You might need to have a pacemaker or a defibrillator if you have a problem with your heart rhythm. These help your heart keep a steady rhythm.

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:

  • Eat less salt (sodium). Sodium causes your body to retain water and makes it harder for your heart to pump. Your doctor may also ask you to limit how much fluid you drink.
  • Get regular exercise. Your doctor can tell you what level of exercise is safe for you, how to check your pulse, and how to know if you are doing too much.
  • Take rest breaks during the day.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Even a few pounds can make a difference.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking damages your heart and makes exercise harder to do.
  • Limit alcohol. Ask your doctor how much, if any, is safe.

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:

  • Talk to your doctor before you take any new medicine, including nonprescription and prescription drugs, vitamins, and herbs. Some of them may make your heart failure worse.
  • Keep track of your symptoms. Weigh yourself at the same time every day, and write down your weight. Call your doctor if you have a sudden weight gain, a change in your ability to exercise, or any sudden change in your symptoms.

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.

Cause

Many problems can cause heart failure, including damage to the heart's muscle, valves, or electrical system. These can all affect how well the heart pumps.

Problems that damage the heart muscle

Other things that damage the heart's valves

Problems with the heart's electrical system

  • Fast, slow, or irregular heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation
  • Electrical signals that don't flow as they should from the upper to the lower part of the heart (heart block)

Other problems

  • Disease of the sac around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Postpartum heart failure. This rare problem can happen late in a woman's pregnancy or within the first 5 months after delivery.
  • Severe anemia
  • Hyperthyroidism

Certain triggers, such as too much sodium or not taking medicines the right way, may suddenly make heart failure worse. This can sometimes cause deadly problems such as pulmonary edema or cardiogenic shock.

More information

Symptoms

At first you may not have any symptoms from heart failure. But as your heart has more trouble pumping enough blood to your body, you may get short of breath when you walk or do other activities. You also may feel very tired.

Your heart will try to make up for heart failure by pumping faster and by pumping more blood with each beat. But over time, these efforts can make your heart weaker and can make symptoms worse.

Main symptoms of heart failure

Symptom

What happens?

Shortness of breath

  • You can't catch your breath.
  • You feel tightness in your chest.
  • You feel tired when you walk.
  • You need to stop a lot when you walk.
  • It may get worse when you lie flat, and it may wake you up at night.

Swelling in the feet and ankles

  • It gets worse at the end of the day or after you stand for long periods.
  • It may hurt.
  • Pressure can leave impressions in your skin.
  • Shoes may no longer fit.

Being very tired (fatigue)

  • You have less energy and feel more tired than usual.
  • You can't exert yourself like you could before.

Abnormal heartbeat

  • Your heart races or pounds.
  • Your heart skips beats (palpitations).

Change in urination

  • You urinate more at night.

Weight gain

  • Fluid builds up, and weight goes up quickly.

How doctors talk about heart failure

  • Heart failure is grouped—or classified—according to symptoms. Your treatment is based partly on what class of symptoms you have.
  • There's also another way to define heart failure. It's based on the stages you might go through as your heart failure gets worse. Your doctor also may make treatment choices based on your stage of heart failure.

Symptoms of sudden heart failure

Sometimes your symptoms may get worse very quickly. This is called sudden heart failure. It causes fluid to build up in your lungs, causing congestion. (This is why the problem is often called congestive heart failure.) Symptoms may include:

  • Severe shortness of breath.
  • An irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Coughing up foamy, pink mucus.

Sudden heart failure is an emergency. You need care right away.

More information

What Increases Your Risk

Heart failure is usually caused by another health problem, often coronary artery disease or high blood pressure. So anything that increases your risk for one of those problems also increases your risk for heart failure.

More information

When to Call a Doctor

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have:

  • Chest pain that has not gone away within 5 minutes after you have taken one nitroglycerin dose and/or rested, especially if the pain is pressing or crushing and occurs with shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea.
  • Symptoms of a stroke. These include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • Symptoms of sudden heart failure, such as:
    • Severe shortness of breath (trouble getting a breath even when resting).
    • Suddenly getting an irregular heartbeat that lasts for a while, or getting a very fast heartbeat along with dizziness, nausea, or fainting.
    • Foamy, pink mucus with a cough and shortness of breath.

Call your doctor soon if you have symptoms of heart failure, which include:

  • Being very tired or having weakness that prevents you from doing your usual activities.
  • Trouble breathing during routine activities or exercise that did not cause problems before.
  • Shortness of breath when you lie down.
  • Waking up at night with shortness of breath or feeling as though you are suffocating.
  • A dry, hacking cough, especially when you lie down.
  • Sudden weight gain, such as 3 lb (1.4 kg) or more in 2 to 3 days.
  • Increased fluid buildup in your body (most often in the legs).

Also call your doctor soon if you have been diagnosed with heart failure and your symptoms get worse. In general, it is a good idea to call your doctor anytime you have a sudden change in symptoms.

Call your doctor right away if you have a pacemaker or ICD and think you have an infection near the device. Signs of an infection include:

  • Changes in the skin around your pacemaker or ICD, such as:
    • Swelling.
    • Warmth.
    • Redness.
    • Pain.
  • Unexplained fever.

Watchful waiting

You can try home treatment for symptoms such as mild fluid buildup (edema) and feeling very tired. But sudden shortness of breath, even if it is mild, should always be checked by your doctor.

  • If symptoms go away and don't return, you may not need more treatment.
  • See your doctor if you often need home treatment to keep even minor symptoms under control.

Who to See

The following health professionals can treat you for heart failure:

More information

Exams and Tests

Heart failure is a complex problem. So you will likely have several different tests over time. These tests can:

  • Find out if you have heart failure.
  • Find the cause of your heart failure.
  • Find the type of heart failure you have.
  • Show how bad your heart failure is (class and stage).
  • See how well your treatment is working.

If you have symptoms that suggest heart failure, you may have:

An echocardiogram is the best and simplest way to diagnose heart failure. It also can help guide treatment.

Sometimes, because of a person's weight, breast size, or severe lung disease, an echocardiogram might not be accurate. If that happens, a cardiac blood pool scan may be done instead. It checks how well the left ventricle is pumping. But it's not as good at finding heart valve disease and a thick heart muscle.

Tests also may be done to find areas of the heart that are not getting enough blood. These tests include:

More information

Treatment Overview

Your treatment for heart failure depends on:

Sometimes heart failure can be fixed if another problem can be corrected, such as by replacing a heart valve or treating hyperthyroidism.

Heart failure caused by a heart attack may be treated with coronary artery bypass surgery or angioplasty, medicine, and cardiac rehabilitation.

Initial treatment

In the early stages of heart failure, you'll take medicines and make lifestyles changes that can improve your symptoms. Treatment also may prevent more damage to your heart.

You will have regular doctor visits to see how treatment is working and to make changes to your care as needed.

Medicines

You will likely take:

You also will likely take medicines to treat the cause of your heart failure. For more information, see the Medications section.

It's very important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor prescribes.

Lifestyle changes

You will need to make some changes in your daily life to treat heart failure. Your doctor may ask you to:

  • Eat less salt.
  • Be more active.
  • Stay at a healthy weight, or lose weight if you need to. Even a few pounds can make a difference.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Control your diabetes.
  • Limit how much fluid you drink.

Making lifestyle changes can be hard. For more information, see the Living With Heart Failure section.

Ongoing treatment

You will keep following your lifestyle changes, such as limiting sodium, not smoking, and being active.

Your doctor will add other medicines and other treatments as you need them. Your doctor also will try to prevent or treat problems—such as fever, arrhythmia, and anemia—that can lead to sudden heart failure.

Your treatment may include:

  • Getting vaccines. Your doctor may want you to get vaccines against pneumonia and the flu (influenza). These vaccines can keep you from getting infections that could put you in the hospital.
  • Checking your weight. Your doctor will probably give you guidelines for watching fluid buildup and tell you how much weight gain is too much.
  • Getting devices to fix heart rhythm problems. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a biventricular pacemaker that is placed in your chest to keep your heart beating at a normal rhythm. Or you may have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to stop a deadly rhythm. In some cases, you may get a pacemaker that is combined with an ICD.
  • Oxygen treatment. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to reduce your shortness of breath and increase your ability to exercise.

Treatment if your condition gets much worse

In some cases when standard treatment doesn't help, you may have other treatments. These include:

But these are options for only a very small number of people.

Palliative care

As your heart failure gets worse, you may want to think about palliative care. It's a kind of care for people who have illnesses that don't go away and often get worse over time. It's different than care to cure your illness. But some people combine both types of care.

Palliative care:

  • May improve your quality of life—not just in your body, but also in your mind and spirit.
  • May help you manage symptoms or side effects from treatment.
  • Can help you cope with your feelings about living with a long-term illness.
  • Can help you make plans around your medical care.
  • Can help your family better understand your illness and how to support you.

If you are interested in palliative care, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to manage your care or refer you to a doctor who specializes in this type of care.

For more information, see the topic Palliative Care.

End-of-life care

Because heart failure tends to get worse over time, it's important to think about what kind of care you would like at the end of your life. It's also important that your doctor and family know what you want.

An advance directive is a legal document that tells doctors how to care for you at the end of your life. For more information, see End-of-Life Decisions.

More information

Prevention

The best way to prevent heart failure is to:

  • Lower your risk of getting heart disease by making lifestyle changes.
  • Control certain health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

To reduce your risk:

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
  • Lower your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, follow your doctor's advice for lowering it. Eating a heart-healthy diet—such as the TLC diet —exercising, and quitting smoking will help keep your cholesterol low.
  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure raises your risk of getting heart disease. Studies show that lowering blood pressure to normal levels in people who have high blood pressure could reduce the cases of heart failure by half.2 Exercising, limiting alcohol, and controlling stress will help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise will help control your weight, blood pressure, and stress. Controlling these things will help keep your heart healthy. Try to do activities that raise your heart rate. Aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week.3 One way to do this is to be active at least 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a week. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
  • Control diabetes. Take your medicines as directed, and work with your doctor to make a diet and exercise plan to control diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol. If you drink alcohol, drink moderately. This means no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to heart failure.

Living With Heart Failure

You can feel better when you have heart failure by taking your medicines as directed, having a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding things that make heart failure worse.

Taking medicines

Having a healthy lifestyle

  • Limit sodium.
    Click here to view an Actionset. Heart failure: Eating less salt
    Click here to view an Actionset. Low-salt diets: Eating out
  • Exercise regularly. If you aren't already active, your doctor may want you to start exercising. You could do it in a program or on your own. Try to do activities that raise your heart rate. Aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week.3 One way to do this is to be active at least 10 minutes 3 times a day, 5 days a week. You can start slowly if you haven't exercised much before. For more information, see the topic Cardiac Rehabilitation. For information on starting and staying with an exercise program, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart failure: Activity and exercise.
  • Check your weight at the same time every day. For information, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart failure: Checking your weight.
  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight. Eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly will help you lose weight. Even a few pounds can make a difference.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk for heart disease and makes it harder to exercise. Avoid secondhand smoke too. For more information, see Quitting Smoking.
  • Avoid too much alcohol . This means drinking no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Limit your fluids if needed. For information, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart failure: Watching your fluids.
  • Oxygen treatment. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to reduce your shortness of breath and increase your ability to exercise.

Avoiding things that make heart failure worse

Avoid triggers, such as too much salt (sodium) and certain medicines, that can cause sudden heart failure. For more information, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart failure: Avoiding triggers for sudden heart failure.

Treating your sleep problems

Photo of a man

One Man's Story:

Pete, 70

"I was having a lot of trouble getting enough sleep. I was snoring so bad that my wife was sleeping in another room. I'd wake up 7 times a night. Sometimes I'd wake up gasping for breath. The next day I'd be so tired that I'd fall asleep while doing my woodworking in the garage. And I was really fuzzy-headed. I couldn't remember anything.

"I thought it might be my heart failure. So I decided to talk to my doctor about it, and he suggested a sleep study. I found out that I have sleep apnea. I haven't been getting enough oxygen because of it. He put me on a CPAP machine at night. I've used it for the past 4 months.

"It took a little time to get used to sleeping with a mask. But I'm sleeping much better. Now if I wake up, it's only once, and I go right back to sleep. I feel so much better during the day."—Pete

This story is based on information gathered from many people living with heart failure.

Many people with heart failure have trouble sleeping. Your doctor may be able to find out what is causing your sleep problems and help you get a good night's sleep.

For more information, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Sleep apnea: Should I have a sleep study?
Click here to view an Actionset. Insomnia: Improving your sleep.

Getting help for problems with sex

Most people with heart failure can still have an active sex life. But sexual problems are common. Your interest may drop, or you may have shortness of breath or other symptoms that limit your ability to have sex. Men may have erection problems.

Talk to your doctor. You can get help for erection problems or other sexual troubles. You also can follow some tips to make sex easier on your heart. For more information, see the topics:

Other things you can do to take care of yourself

Help for caregivers

It can be rewarding to help a loved one with heart failure. But it's also a lot of work. And it can be hard emotionally.

If you are taking care of a loved one, make sure that you also take care of yourself. This can mean taking breaks by getting help from family or friends. You also may be able to use respite care. These services provide someone who will stay with your loved one while you get out of the house for a few hours. For more information, see:

More information

Coping With Your Feelings

Heart failure brings big changes to your life. You may struggle with sadness and worry. You may wonder if you'll still be able to enjoy your life. Coping with your feelings and seeking help when you need it can help you live better with heart failure.

Depression and anxiety

Photo of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Joan, 54

"I would sit at my kitchen table and feel I was in this cloud of dread. I didn't feel like me. I felt like, 'I'm never going to be me again.'"—Joan

Read about how Joan got help for depression and anxiety.

Heart failure can be hard on your emotions. You may feel depressed that you can't do some of the things you used to do. You may worry about your future. And symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath, can make this anxiety worse.

These feelings are common. Talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of depression or are worried a lot. Depression and anxiety can be treated with counseling and medicine.

You also can help yourself feel better by changing your "self-talk." Those are the things you tell yourself about how you're coping. Negative thoughts can make you feel bad. Changing the way you think can change the way you feel. To learn how to think in a positive way, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Anxiety: Using positive thinking.
Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Using positive thinking.
Click here to view an Actionset. Positive thinking: Stopping unwanted thoughts.

For more information, see the topics:

Stress

The challenges of living with heart failure can increase your stress. And stress can make living with heart failure even harder. Stress also can disturb your sleep and make depression and anxiety worse. Here are some things that can help your body, mind, and spirit:

Click here to view an Actionset. Doing progressive muscle relaxation
Click here to view an Actionset. Managing your time
Click here to view an Actionset. Reducing stress by being assertive
Click here to view an Actionset. Breathing exercises for relaxation
Click here to view an Actionset. Doing guided imagery to relax
Click here to view an Actionset. Doing meditation
Click here to view an Actionset. Practicing yoga to relax

Getting support

Emotional support from friends and family can help you cope with the struggles of heart failure. You might want to think about joining a heart failure support group. Ask your doctor about the types of support that are available where you live.

Meeting other people with the same problems can help you know you're not alone. If you're shy or aren't a joiner, you can look at an online support group. Even though people online aren't talking face-to-face, they're sharing their feelings and creating a community.

Medications

You probably will need to take several medicines to treat heart failure, even if you don't have symptoms yet. Medicines don't cure heart failure. But they can help your heart work better and improve any symptoms that you do have.

Medicines can:

  • Relieve or control symptoms.
  • Treat other health problems you have, such as coronary artery disease.
  • Improve your daily quality of life.
  • Slow the rate at which your heart failure gets worse.
  • Reduce the chance of other problems from heart failure, such as stroke.
  • Reduce hospital stays.
  • Help you live as long as possible.

It's very important to take your medicines exactly as your doctor says. If you don't, your heart failure may get worse or you may get sudden heart failure. For more information, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart failure: Taking your medicines properly.

Medicine Choices

The medicines you take will depend on the type of heart failure you have. Some of the medicines treat the heart's pumping problems (systolic heart failure), while others treat problems with filling (diastolic heart failure). The most commonly used medicines are listed below.

Medicines for pumping problems (systolic heart failure)

These include:

  • ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) to relax and widen blood vessels. This makes it easier for blood to flow.
  • ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers) to make it easier for blood to flow through the vessels.
  • Diuretics to make the kidneys remove more water and salt (sodium) from the body.
  • Aldosterone receptor antagonists to make the kidneys get rid of extra salt and fluid and to help the body hold on to potassium.
  • Digoxin to help the heart pump more blood with each beat.
  • Beta-blockers to control symptoms of heart failure by slowing the heart rate and making the blood vessels wider so blood flows more easily.
  • Vasodilators to lower blood pressure and reduce the workload on the heart.

Medicines for filling problems (diastolic heart failure)

These include:

Other medicines

You also may take other medicines for health problems that can cause heart failure or for problems caused by heart failure. These problems include irregular heart rhythms, poor blood flow to the heart, and high blood pressure.

The medicines include:

What to Think About

Talk to your doctor before you take any over-the-counter medicines. Some of them might make your symptoms worse. For more information, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart failure: Avoiding medicines that make symptoms worse.

More information

Surgery

People who have heart failure may have surgery to:

  • Open clogged arteries. Coronary artery bypass surgery or angioplasty may help some people who have heart failure with chest pain (angina) or who have had a heart attack.
  • Fix problems that cause heart failure, such as damaged valves.
  • Get a new heart. You have to meet certain conditions to get a heart transplant. But you may be able to have one if you have very bad, life-limiting symptoms.

Surgery Choices

For more information on bypass surgery and angioplasty, see the topic Coronary Artery Disease.

More information

Other Treatment

If you have heart failure, you may get a device to fix a deadly heart rhythm or to help your heart pump better.

Pacemakers

Photo of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Joyce, 83

Getting a pacemaker has "made all the difference in the world. I could work in my yard, and walk my dog."—Joyce

Read about how a pacemaker helped Joyce be more active.

Biventricular pacemakers make the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) pump in the right order. This type of pacemaker can help you feel better so you can be more active. It also can help keep you out of the hospital and help you live longer.4 For more information on pacemakers, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Heart failure: Should I get a pacemaker?

If you get a pacemaker, you have to be careful not to get too close to some devices with strong magnetic or electrical fields. These include MRI machines, battery-powered cordless power tools, and CB or ham radios. But most everyday appliances are safe. For more information, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart problems: Living with a pacemaker or ICD.

A pacemaker may be used alone or along with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) for heart failure.

Implantable defibrillators (ICDs)

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) can prevent sudden death from an abnormal heart rhythm and may help you live longer. An ICD checks the heart for very fast and deadly heart rhythms. If the heart goes into one of these rhythms, the ICD shocks it to stop the deadly rhythm and returns the heart to a normal rhythm. For more information, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Heart failure: Should I get an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)?

If you get an ICD, you have to be careful not to get too close to some devices with strong magnetic or electrical fields. These include MRI machines, battery-powered cordless power tools, and CB or ham radios. But most everyday appliances are safe. For more information, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart problems: Living with a pacemaker or ICD.

An ICD may be used alone or along with a pacemaker for heart failure.

Ventricular assist devices (VADs)

Ventricular assist devices (VADs), also known as heart pumps, are placed into the chest to help the heart pump more blood. VADs can keep people alive until a donor heart is available for transplant. In rare cases, VADs may also be used as an alternative to heart transplant for long-term treatment.

Other treatments

In some cases you might have:

Supplements

Talk to your doctor before you take any over-the-counter medicine or supplement. There's no strong evidence that vitamins or other supplements can help treat heart failure.

But you may still hear about supplements that might improve heart failure symptoms. Examples include coenzyme Q10 and hawthorn.

  • Only some of the studies of coenzyme Q10 showed that it helps heart failure symptoms.5
  • Hawthorn is an herb that is sometimes used in Europe and Asia to try to increase blood flow to the heart.

Neither of these supplements has been shown to relieve heart failure or help you live longer.

End-of-Life Decisions

Heart failure tends to get worse over time. So you need to decide what kind of care you want at the end of your life.

It can be hard to have talks with your doctor and family about the end of your life. But making these decisions now may bring you and your family peace of mind. Your family won't have to wonder what you want. And you can spend your time focusing on your relationships.

You will need to decide if you want life-support measures if your health gets very bad. An advance directive is a legal document that tells doctors how to care for you at the end of your life. You also can say where you want to have care. And you can name someone who can make sure your wishes are followed.

For more information, see the topics:

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address: www.americanheart.org
 

Call the American Heart Association (AHA) to find your nearest local or state AHA group. AHA can provide brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support. AHA's Web site also has information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions.


Heart Rhythm Society
1400 K Street NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC  20005
Phone: (202) 464-3400
Fax: (202) 464-3401
Web Address: www.hrsonline.org
 

The Heart Rhythm Society provides information for patients and the public about heart rhythm problems. The Web site includes a section that focuses on patient information. This information includes causes, prevention, tests, treatment, and patient stories about heart rhythm problems. You can use the Find a Specialist section of the Web site to search for a heart rhythm specialist practicing in your area.


National Institutes of Health Senior Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD  20892
Phone: (301) 496-4000
E-mail: custserv@nlm.nih.gov
Web Address: www.NIHSeniorHealth.gov
 

This Web site for older adults offers aging-related health information. The Web site's senior-friendly features include large print, simple navigation, and short, easy-to-read segments of information. A visitor to this Web site can click special buttons to hear the text aloud, make the text larger, or turn on higher contrast for easier viewing.

The site was developed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIHSeniorHealth features up-to-date health information from NIH. Also, the American Geriatrics Society provides independent review of some of the material found on this Web site.


References

Citations

  1. Levy D, et al. (2002). Long-term trends in the incidence of and survival with heart failure. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(18): 1397–1443.
  2. Yusef S, et al. (2002). A lifetime of prevention: The case of heart failure. Circulation, 106(24): 2997–2998.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.
  4. McAlister FA, et al. (2007). Cardiac resynchronization therapy for patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction: A systematic review. JAMA, 297(22): 2502–2514.
  5. Coenzyme Q10 (2006). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 48(1229): 19–20.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology (2006). AHA/ACC guidelines for secondary prevention for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2006 update. Circulation, 113(19): 2363–2372. [Erratum in Circulation, 113(22): 847.]
  • Baddour LM, et al. (2010). Update on cardiovascular implantable electronic device infections and their management. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 121(3): 458–477.
  • Hunt SA, et al. (2009). 2009 focused update incorporated into the ACC/AHA 2005 guidelines for the diagnosis and management of heart failure in adults. A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 119(14): e391–e479.
  • Schocken DD, et al. (2008). Prevention of heart failure: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association Councils on Epidemiology and Prevention, Clinical Cardiology, Cardiovascular Nursing, and High Blood Pressure Research; Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Interdisciplinary Working Group; and Functional Genomics and Translational Biology Interdisciplinary Working Group. Circulation, 117(19): 2544–2565.

Credits

Author Robin Parks, MS
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Editor Marianne Flagg
Associate Editor Terrina Vail
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Last Updated August 25, 2008

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