Heart failure is a very common condition, affecting more than 5 million Americans. Your cardiologists can help you manage the condition with lifestyle changes and medications, leading to a longer, fuller life.
Our Advanced Heart Failure Program can also help with more serious cases of heart failure, with renowned doctors who specialize in the condition and use the latest surgeries, devices and other treatments. Learn more about our Advanced Heart Failure Program.
What is Congestive Heart Failure?
The heart squeezes blood through the circulatory system and also relaxes to accept blood returning from the body and lungs.
Any disruption in this squeezing (systolic dysfunction) or relaxing (diastolic dysfunction) can lead to a failure of the heart to pump enough blood for your body or fill with enough blood. This condition is called heart failure, or congestive heart failure (CHF).
Heart failure is different than cardiac arrest, during which the heart actually stops beating. Still, heart failure requires medical attention. Two kinds exist:
- Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF): The heart cannot provide sufficient blood even though it squeezes normally.
- Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF): The heart muscle is weak, so it has difficulty pumping blood to the rest of the body.
Heart Failure Risk Factors
Certain factors make it more likely than you will develop heart failure:
- Age: You have a greater risk if you are 65 or older. The heart weakens with age, and many patients have also endured diseases that lead to heart failure.
- African-Americans: Heart failure is more common in African-Americans, as is the early onset of symptoms.
- Weight: Too much weight strains the heart and also contributes to heart disease and diabetes, two heart failure causes.
- Heart attack: A previous heart attack increases your risk.
- Gender: Men are more likely to experience heart failure than women.
Heart Failure Causes
Most heart failure cases are caused by an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Cardiac arrhythmia: irregular heartbeats
- Cardiomyopathy: heart muscle disease
- Congenital defects and disease: problems present at birth
- Coronary artery disease: narrowed arteries and reduced blood flow from plaque buildup
- Heart valve disease: problems with the heart’s valves
- Hypertension (high blood pressure): high blood pressure that weakens the heart and causes plaque buildup
Heart Failure Symptoms
Heart failure can produce a range of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the legs and feet
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
Other conditions can cause similar symptoms. Please see one of our cardiologists for a proper diagnosis. Patients with more severe heart failure often feel symptoms even when resting. Learn more about our Advanced Heart Failure Program.
Heart Failure Classification
Functional capacity refers to the way heart failure patients feel when they engage in physical activity. This measure is used to classify heart failure into different stages:
- Class I: No limits on activity; no shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain with ordinary physical exertion
- Class II: Slight limits on activity; mild symptoms when walking or performing other normal physical activity
- Class III: Substantial limits on activity; shortness of breath and other symptoms occur with less-than-ordinary physical exertion
- Class IV: Major limits on activity; unable to perform any ordinary physical activity without experiencing symptoms, or symptoms may occur at rest
Heart Failure Diagnosis
Early diagnosis of heart failure is the key to helping patients live longer, more active lives. We offer the latest tools and tests to provide for a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Learn more about our:
Heart Failure Treatment
The goals of heart failure treatment are to relieve symptoms and improve both the quality and length of life. In the earlier stages of the condition, treatment involves:
- Lifestyle changes: Taking certain steps can help you feel better:
- Eating a heart-healthy, low-salt diet (our dieticians can help)
- Limiting the amount of daily fluid intake
- Losing weight
- Giving up smoking
- Medications: Medications can improve the heart’s function and your ability to live a normal life. Possible medications include:
- Diuretics (water pills) to reduce fluid buildup
- ACE inhibitors and ARBs to lower blood pressure
- Beta blockers to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure
- Aldosterone blockers to help prevent your body from holding onto fluids
- Hydralazine/isosorbide to relax your blood vessels
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): ICDs correct irregular heart rhythms, called arrhythmias.
- Heart surgery: Possible surgeries for related heart problems can include coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery or heart valve surgery.
More severe heart failure may require intervention from our cardiologists or surgeons specializing in advanced heart failure. Learn more about our Advanced Heart Failure Program.