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 heart failure.
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:
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.
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 is not
putting out enough power to get blood all the way round the body
efficiently. This can cause fluid to pool in the feet and legs due
to gravity. As heart failure progresses, this fluid can move to the
stomach and lower back as well.
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 is used
alongside other tests to help diagnose heart failure and refers to
the amount of blood that is pushed out of your left ventricle every
time your heart beats. It is 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.
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.
Find out more about
living with heart failure