Heart failure symptoms usually develop over weeks and months as your heart becomes weaker and less able to pump the blood that your body needs. Heart failure usually results in an enlarged heart (left ventricle).
Does your heart stop?
When you have heart failure, it doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped beating. It means that your heart isn’t pumping blood as it should. The heart keeps working, but the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met.
Heart failure can get worse if it’s not treated. It’s very important to do what your doctor tells you to do. When you make healthy changes, you can feel a lot better and enjoy life much more!
What can happen?
- Your heart does not pump enough blood.
- Blood backs up in your veins.
- Fluid builds up, causing swelling in your feet, ankles and legs. This is called “edema.”
- Your body holds too much fluid.
- Fluid builds up in your lungs, called “pulmonary congestion.”
- Your body does not get enough blood, food and oxygen.
• Shortness of breath, especially when lying down
• Tired, run-down feeling
• Coughing or wheezing, especially when you exercise or lie down
• Swelling in feet, ankles and legs
• Weight gain from fluid buildup
• Confusion or can’t think clearly
What are the causes?
The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD occurs when arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed by buildups of fatty deposits called plaque.
Other common risk factors that lead to heart failure are:
- Past heart attack has done some damage to 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
- Certain types of chemotherapy
- Your doctor may give you medicine to strengthen your heart and water pills to help your body get rid of excess fluids.
- Your doctor will recommend a low-sodium (salt) diet
- Your may be provided oxygen for use at home.
- Your doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes.
- Surgery or cardiac devices may be needed, in some cases.
What can I do to manage my heart failure?
- Follow your doctor’s advice.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke.
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed.
- Weigh daily to check for weight gain caused by increased fluid.
- Track your daily fluid intake.
- Monitor your blood pressure daily.
- Lose or maintain your weight based on your doctor's recommendations.
- Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat.
- Eat less salt and salty foods.
- Be physically active.
- Get adequate rest.
- Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
- Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
- For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.
Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!
Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?
Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:
How much salt may I eat?
How much weight gain is too much?
©2012, American Heart Association.