Key Points about Heart Failure

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot adequately pump blood to the body.
  • Acute heart failure can be caused by a viral infection, a severe allergic reaction, and certain medications.
  • Chronic heart failure can be caused by coronary artery disease, damage caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure, or myocarditis—among other factors.
  • Treating heart failure usually means taking medications to manage symptoms, and for some people, undergoing procedures to restore heart function.
Common related conditions
Angina (Chest Pain) Dilated Cardiomyopathy Heart Attack Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Pericarditis

Overview

Heart failure, or congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart is unable to adequately pump blood to the body. Heart failure can be an acute or chronic condition.

Common causes of acute heart failure include a viral infection, a severe allergic reaction, and certain medications. Chronic heart failure can result from a variety of conditions, including coronary artery disease, damage caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure, and myocarditis.

Treatment for heart failure depends upon the person, but generally involves managing symptoms through a combination of medications and procedures.

Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of heart failure.

Heart failure causes

Heart failure can be acute or chronic. Causes of chronic heart failure include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • A heart attack
  • Myocarditis
  • Cardiomyopathy, or a damaged heart muscle
  • Heart valve issues
  • Arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats
  • Certain chronic diseases

Acute heart failure can be caused by:

  • A viral infection
  • Certain medications
  • Severe allergic reactions

Heart failure risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of developing heart failure if you:

  • Smoke tobacco
  • Abuse alcohol
  • Are obese
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have had a heart attack
  • Had a recent viral infection

The following conditions may also increase your risk of heart failure:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Defects in the heart’s structure
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats

Heart failure symptoms

People with heart failure may experience:

  • Trouble breathing, particularly during physical activity or while lying down
  • Swollen feet, ankles and legs
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Trouble exercising
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Nausea
  • A pink-phlegm-producing cough
  • Abnormal heartbeat

Heart failure complications

The following complications can result from heart failure:

  • Damage to the liver or kidneys
  • Damage to the heart valves
  • Abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias)

Heart failure prevention

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart failure. To lower your risk:

  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
  • Manage stress
  • Treat existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure

Heart failure diagnosis

To diagnose heart failure, a doctor will conduct a physical examination and review your medical history. Your doctor will look for symptoms such as:

  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Lung congestion
  • Swelling in the legs and abdomen

Your doctor will also take note of any risk factors the patient may have for heart failure.

The following tests may also be ordered to help make a diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood test
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Stress test

Heart failure treatment

Treatment for heart failure varies from patient to patient. Generally, managing symptoms of heart failure involves a combination of medications and procedures.

Procedures may include:

  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Heart transplant
  • Repairing the heart valve
  • Inserting implantable devices

When to seek care

Call your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of heart failure. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Extreme weakness
  • Fainting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Abnormally fast heartrate
  • Coughing up pink or bloody phlegm

Next Steps

Your doctor will work with you to set up the best long-term plan to treat and manage heart failure.