Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen.

It doesn't necessarily mean that the heart has stopped working, but rather, its pumping power is weaker than normal.

Heart failure often develops gradually over time, with symptoms becoming progressively worse.

It’s important to contact a healthcare professional if you notice:

  1. Persistent coughing or wheezing, especially if it is accompanied by white or pink blood-tinged phlegm.
  2. Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen or sudden weight gain.
  3. Increased fatigue or feeling tired all the time.
  4. Changes in memory or feelings of confusion or disorientation.
  5. A rapid increase in heartbeat or heart palpitations.
  6. Reduced ability to do physical exercise that you were once able to do without difficulty.
  7. Shortness of breath, even while at rest or lying down, or any difficulty breathing.
  8. Feeling very unwell
  9. Dizziness, fainting or blackouts
  10. Fever (a high temperature – above 38°C)
  11. Sudden chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes

Key Takeaways

  • Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
  • There are different types of heart failure, including systolic and diastolic, which can be further classified as right-sided or left-sided.
  • Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling, and chest pain.
  • Diagnosis and early detection through tests like echocardiograms are important for determining the type of heart failure and appropriate treatment approaches.n.

Types of Heart Failure

You're currently looking at two main types of heart failure: systolic and diastolic dysfunction. In systolic heart failure, your heart's contraction is weakened, reducing the ejection of blood. Conversely, diastolic heart failure involves a stiff heart muscle that doesn't relax properly, preventing adequate filling with blood.

These types are further classified into right-sided and left-sided heart failure, depending on which part of your heart is affected. An echocardiogram measures factors like ejection fraction to diagnose these failures.

Understanding these types of heart failure is crucial to identifying the best therapeutic approach. So, keep in mind, heart failure isn't a one-size-fits-all condition; it's a complex disorder with different types requiring unique management strategies.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Your body's response to heart failure can be varied, with symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue, but it can also manifest as swelling or chest pain. These are telltale signs of heart failure, a condition where your heart can't pump blood as efficiently as it should.

You might notice fluid retention, particularly in your legs, feet, and ankles, which is a symptom of your body's struggle to circulate blood. Shortness of breath can occur even during rest or while lying flat, as fluid backs up into your lungs. Chest pain, stemming from your heart's increased effort to function, can also be a clear indicator.

These symptoms of heart failure may fluctuate in severity and frequency, making it crucial to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Heart Failure

There are numerous causes of heart failure you need to be aware of, including coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy, but high blood pressure and heart valve defects also play a crucial role. Understanding these conditions can help you manage and prevent heart failure.

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD): A type of coronary heart disease where the arteries become narrow, restricting blood flow to your heart.
  • Ischemic heart disease: A subset of CAD, it's caused by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle.
  • Cardiomyopathy: It's a disease of your heart muscle, causing it to become enlarged, thick or rigid. It can be caused by some viral infections or by drinking too much alcohol.
  • Congenital heart disease: You're born with this type of heart defect.
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension): Chronic high pressure in your arteries can strain your heart, leading to failure over time.
  • Myocarditis signifies an inflammation or infection within the heart muscle and is often induced by viral pathogens, including the COVID-19 virus.

Several other non-cardiac conditions can contribute to heart failure. These include

  • Anemia, characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells
  • An overactive thyroid
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • The prolonged use of certain medication categories, such as steroids, arthritis drugs, and chemotherapy treatments
  • Cocaine
  • Sleep apnea

Diagnosis and Tests for Heart Failure

You'll likely begin your heart failure diagnostic journey with a physical exam, where your physician will check for signs of heart failure such as fluid buildup.

Blood tests are next, assessing for biomarkers like B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), indicative of heart strain.

Imaging tests, including chest X-rays, electrocardiograms (ECG) revealing heart rhythm abnormalities, and echocardiograms (Echo) providing a detailed heart structure, complete the diagnostic suite.

Physical Exam

In a physical exam, you're likely to have your heart rate and blood pressure checked to identify any signs of heart failure. These vital signs are critical in aiding the diagnosis of heart failure.

But it doesn't stop there. Your doctor will likely:

Assess your medical history:
- Previous heart conditions
- Family history of heart disease

Evaluate heart failure symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Check for signs of fluid buildup and edema

These steps, in conjunction with additional tests, provide an in-depth view of your cardiac health. Remember, early detection can significantly improve the prognosis for patients with heart failure. Be proactive. Get your physical exam today, and keep heart failure at bay.

Blood Tests

After your physical exam, you'll need at least two blood tests, the NT-proBNP and BNP, but you may also require tests for electrolytes, kidney function, and more. These tests are crucial for diagnosing heart failure.

The NT-proBNP and BNP biomarkers aren't just random letters; they're proteins released when your heart muscle is under stress, a common occurrence in people with heart failure. The higher the levels, the more likely it's you're dealing with congestive heart failure.

Now, why the electrolytes and kidney function tests? Well, heart failure can cause fluid and electrolyte imbalances, and it can affect your kidneys too, leading to a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms.

These blood tests are a vital step towards understanding and managing your heart health.

Chest X-Ray

Let's move on to the role a chest X-ray plays in diagnosing heart failure, as it can pick up signs such as cardiomegaly, vascular redistribution, Kerley lines, and interstitial edema. Essentially, it's a snapshot of your chest that gives medics a clear picture of your heart's situation.

Here's what they're looking for:

  • Cardiomegaly: This is a medical term that refers to an enlarged heart. It's visible on a chest X-ray as an expanded cardiac silhouette.
  • Vascular redistribution: When your heart's failing, blood vessels in your upper chest may appear more prominent, indicating fluid redistribution.
    Kerley lines and interstitial edema: These are signs of fluid accumulation in your chest, a common symptom of heart failure.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

You're now moving onto the electrocardiogram, or ECG, which plays a crucial role in diagnosing heart failure. It helps identify abnormalities such as arrhythmias, ischemic heart disease, or ventricular hypertrophy.

The ECG records your heart's electrical activity and rhythm, tracing the electrical signals as they travel through your heart. Any abnormal heart rhythms or changes in the signals can indicate a problem with your heart's function.

A normal ECG virtually excludes left ventricular systolic dysfunction, meaning your heart's pumping strength is sufficient. The ECG is a non-invasive, quick, and painless way to get detailed insights into the health of your heart.

Echocardiogram (Echo)

Switching gears from ECG, we'll now dive into the echocardiogram (Echo), a diagnostic test that uses sound waves to examine the structure and function of your heart. It gives a detailed view of your heart's size, shape, and movement of the chambers and valves.

Echo provides insights on: - Heart Valves: It helps identify any abnormalities in the heart valves, which regulate blood flow. - Ejection Fraction: This measures the ventricular ejection fraction, indicating how well your heart pumps blood with each beat. - Cardiac performance: By analyzing the blood flow and the heart's movement, Echo assesses your cardiac performance.

Understanding these key elements will help you grasp how Echo identifies heart conditions. It's a crucial tool in diagnosing heart failure, providing a comprehensive look at your heart's health.

Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

In addition to an echocardiogram, you'll need a Cardiac MRI, a diagnostic tool which produces three-dimensional images of your heart, to provide a more comprehensive assessment of your heart's health, and it can reveal any areas of damage or abnormal blood flow.

This innovative imaging method uses a robust magnetic field and radio waves to generate detailed images, enabling your healthcare provider to diagnose heart failure and assess your cardiac output. Specifically, it can identify the size, shape, and function of your heart, crucial in detecting ventricular dysfunction.

Cardiac MRI can also highlight any damaged areas, providing invaluable information for your treatment strategy. Understanding these complex concepts ensures you're better equipped to manage your condition and collaborate effectively with your healthcare provider.

Treatment of Heart Failure

You're now on the path to managing heart failure, and a significant aspect of that involves lifestyle modifications and prescribed medications.

It's not just about taking pills; it's about understanding how they work, like ACE inhibitors reducing strain on your heart, and beta-blockers slowing your heart rate.

Equally important are lifestyle changes, such as a low-sodium diet and regular exercise, that can reduce fluid build-up and improve your heart's efficiency.

Lifestyle Changes and Medications

While it's important to focus on taking your prescribed medications like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, don't forget that making lifestyle changes such as adopting a heart-healthy diet and quitting smoking can significantly improve your heart failure condition.

Here's a brief overview of the crucial components of your heart failure management program:

  • Heart Failure Medicines: ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics help regulate your fluid balance and heart rhythms.
  • ACE inhibitors dilate your blood vessels, improving blood flow.
  • Beta-blockers curb the effects of adrenaline, reducing heart workload.
  • Diuretics aid in eliminating excess body fluid.

Lifestyle Changes: Commit to a heart-healthy diet, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight. These habits can dramatically better your heart's health.

Quit Smoking: Smoking cessation is a non-negotiable step in heart failure management. It's time to kick the habit for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make to Support My Heart Health After Heart Failure?"

To enhance your cardiac health, you'll need to adopt a heart-healthy diet, increase physical activity, and manage stress. Reducing sodium intake, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking are also crucial steps.

What Are the Potential Long-Term Effects of Heart Failure on My Overall Health?"

Long-term effects on your health can be significant. They may include reduced physical stamina, kidney damage, and irregular heart rhythms. It's crucial you follow your doctor's guidelines to manage these potential impacts effectively.

How Does Heart Failure Affect My Daily Activities and Quality of Life?"

Heart failure can significantly impact your daily activities and life quality. You might experience fatigue, shortness of breath, and reduced physical stamina, making routine tasks more challenging and often leading to a less active lifestyle.

Can Heart Failure Be Prevented, if so How?"

Yes, you can prevent it by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That includes regular exercise, balanced diet, quitting smoking, controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and limiting alcohol. It's all about heart-healthy choices.

What Is the Relationship Between Diet and Heart Failure?"

Your diet greatly influences your heart's health. Consuming low-sodium, low-fat foods can help maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure. Overindulging in fatty, sugary, or salty foods can strain your heart, leading to complications.


In managing heart failure, remember it's crucial to spot symptoms early. It's diagnosed via tests like echocardiograms, EKGs, or MRIs. Treatment typically involves lifestyle changes, medication, or sometimes surgery.

Don't underestimate the power of a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise. It's a complex condition, but with the right understanding and care, you can live a fulfilling life.

Always consult with your cardiologist for personalized advice.

More information

Heart failure(external link) Heart Foundation, NZ
Your guide to heart failure(external link) British Heart Foundation, UK
Heart failure(external link) NHS, UK
Congestive heart failure(external link) Patient Info, UK
Staying well with heart failure(external link) Heart Foundation, NZ
Heart failure – daily checks record(external link) Heart Foundation, NZ
Advanced heart failure(external link) HealthInfo Canterbury, NZ
My heart failure action plan(external link) Heart Foundation, NZ, 2016

This information is intended solely for New Zealand residents and is of a general nature only. No person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided, but at all times should obtain specific advice from a health professional.

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