Heart failure is a condition in which your heart doesn’t pump enough blood to your body’s cells. Your body depends on blood for oxygen and nutrients. When it gets enough, your body can work normally. When your heart is weak or damaged, your body doesn’t get enough blood. This often causes problems that may never fully go away. In the US, as many as 10% of all people over 60 years old have heart failure.
Sometimes heart failure develops suddenly. This is called acute heart failure. This can be due to a heart attack, heart muscle damage from infection, toxins, or drugs, or a blood clot in the lungs. Most people with acute heart failure need to have treatment in a hospital.
For most people, heart failure develops gradually over time. The most common causes of heart failure are narrowed arteries in your heart and high blood pressure. Over time, your heart becomes too stiff or weak to fill or pump the way it should. This is called chronic heart failure or, sometimes, congestive heart failure.
The first clue to chronic heart failure is usually symptoms. Common symptoms of heart failure are:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or when laying down
- Swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles, and legs
- Chest pain
When heart failure is suspected, your doctor will likely run some tests. One is a blood test for BNP. High levels of this hormone are linked with heart failure. A chest x-ray and echocardiogram can show your doctor images of your heart. These tests help confirm the diagnosis. Further tests may be done to look for underlying causes of your heart failure.
For many people, heart failure will never go away since the damage to the heart is already done. The goal of treatment is usually to improve symptoms and prevent more damage from occurring. Treatment may include:
- A healthy lifestyle
- Surgery or medical devices