Heart failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) are not able to pump blood effectively. When the heart muscle has been damaged by long-term high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, diseases that affect the heart muscle, a heart attack, or other conditions, it is harder for the heart to pump effectively.

Ongoing (chronic) heart failure is a lifelong, progressive condition that may require many lifestyle changes. Symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath while at rest, with mild exertion, or while lying down or shortness of breath that wakes a person from sleep.
  • Leg swelling.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness or fainting (rare).

Over time, symptoms may get worse (be progressive) until they are always present.

Heart failure can also develop suddenly. This is called acute or sudden heart failure. Sudden heart failure is a medical emergency that causes rapid and severe shortness of breath, a sudden irregular or rapid heartbeat, and a cough that brings up foamy, pink mucus.

Treatment for heart failure usually involves managing the underlying causes of heart failure and relieving symptoms. Effective treatment may reduce the need for hospital stays and the risk of premature death. Diet and lifestyle changes along with medicines may help to manage symptoms. In some cases, surgery may help treat underlying causes, such as coronary artery disease or heart valve problems.

Last Updated: August 25, 2008

Author: Robin Parks, MS

Medical Review: Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology

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