Heart Failure Resources
What is Heart Failure?
About 5.7 million Americans are living with heart failure, which can take years to develop. Symptoms usually develop over weeks and months as the heart becomes weaker and less able to pump the blood that your body needs. One of the most common reasons people 65 and older go into the hospital, heart failure usually results in an enlarged heart (left ventricle). However, heart failure could also involve the right side (ventricle) of the heart. When fluid builds up in various parts of the body, that is called congestive heart failure. If you are at risk for heart failure, make whatever modifications you can to prevent it.
Signs and Symptoms
|Sign or Symptom||People with Heart Failure May Experience...||Why It Happens|
|Shortness of breath (also called dyspnea)
||...breathlessness during activity (most commonly), at rest, or while sleeping, which may come on suddenly and wake you up. You often have difficulty breathing while lying flat and may need to prop up the upper body and head on two pillows. You often complain of waking up tired or feeling anxious and restless.
||Blood "backs up" in the pulmonary veins (the vessels that return blood from the lungs to the heart) because the heart can't keep up with the supply. This causes fluid to leak into the lungs.
|Persistent coughing or wheezing
||...coughing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.
||Fluid builds up in the lungs (see above).
|Buildup of excess fluid in body tissues (edema).
||...swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen or weight gain. You may find that your shoes feel tight.
||As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing fluid to build up in the tissues. The kidneys are less able to dispose of sodium and water, also causing fluid retention in the tissues.
||...a tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities, such as shopping, climbing stairs, carrying groceries or walking.
||The heart can't pump enough blood to meet the needs of body tissues. The body diverts blood away from less vital organs, particularly muscles in the limbs, and sends it to the heart and brain.
|Lack of appetite, nausea
||...a feeling of being full or sick to your stomach.
||The digestive system receives less blood, causing problems with digestion.
|Confusion, impaired thinking
||...memory loss and feelings of disorientation. A caregiver or relative may notice this first.
||Changing levels of certain substances in the blood, such as sodium, can cause confusion.
|Increased heart rate
||...heart palpitations, which feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.
||To "make up for" the loss in pumping capacity, the heart beats faster.
Source: American Heart Association. Accessed 01/22/2015.
- Coronary artery disease
- Past heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Abnormal heart valves
- Heart muscle disease (dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) or inflammation (myocarditis)
- Heart defects present at birth (congenital heart disease)
- Severe lung disease
- Sleep apnea
The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease (CAD). It develops when arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed by buildups of plaque—fatty deposits. Some other common risk factors that can lead to heart failure include:
- Past heart attack that has damaged the heart muscle
- Heart defects present since birth
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve disease
- Diseases of the heart muscle
- Infection of the heart and/or heart valves
- Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias)
- Being overweight
- Thyroid problems
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Chemotherapy (certain types)
Your doctor may prescribe medication to strengthen your heart and water pills to help your body get rid of excess fluids. Your doctor will recommend a low-sodium diet, and may recommend lifestyle changes and may also provide oxygen for you to use at home. Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes. Some cases may call for surgery or for cardiac devices.
- Follow your health care provider's advice
- If you smoke, quit
- Take your medicines as prescribed
- Check daily for weight gain caused by increased fluid
- Track your fluid intake daily
- Monitor your blood pressure daily
- Lose or maintain your weight based on your doctor's advice
- Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine
- Eat a heart-healthy diet low in salt and saturated fat
- Be physically active
- Get adequate rest