Having heart failure means that for some
reason, your heart is not pumping blood
around the body as well as it used to.
The most common reason is that your heart muscle has been
damaged, for example after a heart attack. It can be very
frightening to hear that you or a person close to you has
What causes heart failure?
There are lots of reasons why you might be
diagnosed with heart failure. It can be sudden or it can happen
slowly over months or even years.
The most common causes are:
Heart failure can also be caused by:
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and have a heart condition, or have been told that your treatment
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Heart failure can also be caused by pulmonary
hypertension (raised blood pressure in the blood vessels
that supply your lungs). This condition can damage the right side
of your heart, leading to heart failure. In some cases the
pulmonary hypertension itself is caused by an existing heart condition.
Find out more about pulmonary hypertension
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
The main symptoms are:
- shortness of breath -
when you are being active or at rest
- swelling - of your feet,
ankles, stomach and lower back areas
- fatigue - feeling
unusually tired or weak
Symptoms occur because the heart does not
have enough strength to pump blood all the way round the body
efficiently. This can cause fluid to pool in the feet and
legs. If this fluid is left unmanaged, it can build and
spread to your stomach area and sit beneath your lungs – this
reduces their ability to expand and makes your short of breath.to
get blood all the way round the body efficiently.
Medication and making changes to the way you
live can make a real difference to these symptoms. People with
heart failure experience different symptoms and everyone copes in
different ways, so speak to your GP and your heart failure nurse about what is best for
For more information about understanding and
managing the symptoms of heart failure, take a look at our advice
and information on living with heart
How is heart failure diagnosed?
To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will ask you questions
about your medical history, talk about your symptom and do a
physical examination. In most cases you
will also have further tests to confirm the diagnosis and guide how
your symptoms are controlled. These include blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest x-ray, an echocardiogram and a coronary angiogram.
You may hear your doctor talk about the
‘ejection fraction’ of your heart. This refers to
the amount of blood that is pushed out of your left ventricle every
time your heart beats. It’s usually expressed as a percentage. A
normal ejection fraction is around 50-65 per cent, as there is
always some blood left in the heart after each heartbeat. Some
people with heart failure have a normal ejection fraction, so
ejection fraction is used alongside other tests to help diagnose
After a diagnosis, your doctor may discuss
your 'stage' or 'class' of heart
failure. There are four classes, which are based on your
symptoms and how they affect you. The higher the number of the
class you are in, the more serious your heart failure has
become. It is also possible to move between stages as you may
have episodes where your heart failure is worse because of other
events, such as a further heart attack.
What treatments are available for heart failure?
While there isn't a cure for heart failure at
the moment, the treatments available to control symptoms are
helping many people live full and active lives.
Your doctor is likely to prescribe drugs that will help control your blood pressure and help the pumping action of
They will also give you advice about making
changes to your lifestyle such as cutting down on salt, which will help control your blood
pressure, and stopping smoking.
A combination of medication and lifestyle
changes will hopefully help you continue to do the things you
enjoy, by helping you manage your symptoms and keeping your
condition as stable as possible.
Some people with heart failure will benefit
from a pacemaker or ICD. Your doctor will talk to you about these
treatments if they are right for you.
Find out more about living with heart
Fighting for a cure
At the moment, if you have a heart attack
your heart muscle suffers damage that can never be repaired. But
with recent advances in regenerative medicine, repairing a damaged
heart is a realistic goal.
We’ve launched our most ambitious research
programme yet to progress the UK's fight against heart failure –
our Mending Broken Hearts appeal.