With heart failure, the heart is unable to pump the right amount of blood throughout the body. This causes blood to back up in the veins. Depending on which part of the heart is affected, this can lead to a buildup of excess fluid in the lungs, feet, and elsewhere. Heart failure can worsen with time, which may lead to the use of many treatments. Because of this, doctors are aggressive in treating heart failure to try to prevent it from worsening.
Blood Flow through the Heart
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Symptoms include: Shortness of breath—at first only with activity, then progressing to shortness of breath at restUnexplained weight gainSwelling of feet, ankles, or legsNeed to sleep propped upFatigue, weaknessWheezingCough
—may be dry and hacking or wet sounding, may have a pink, frothy sputum
Frequent urination, especially at nightAbdominal pain
Heart failure is more common in older adults, men, and people of African American descent.
Factors that increase your chances of getting heart failure include: ObesityExcess intake of salt and fatExcess alcohol intakeSmokingPregnancyHigh feverSevere infection
Chronic lung disease—
Heart failure may be caused by another condition. Treating this condition should improve your heart failure or prevent it from getting worse.
The following lifestyle changes can help treat the symptoms of heart failure and slow down its progression: Avoid alcohol.
If you smoke,
talk to your doctor about ways toquit
Lose weight if needed
. Your diet should be low in fat and
high in fiber
In some cases, you may need to restrict salt and fluid intake.
Begin an exercise program with guidance from your doctor.
may help improve your level of physical activity and quality of life.
You should aim to exercise for 20-30 minutes at least five times each week. You can begin slowly and work your way to this goal. Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Weigh yourself every morning. This will allow you to quickly detect if you are retaining fluid. Call your doctor if you gain three or more pounds in one day, five or more pounds in one week, or whatever amount you were told to report. The best time to weigh yourself is before breakfast and after urinating. You should weigh yourself while wearing the same type of clothes, without shoes, and on the same scale. This will help you to know that your weight is accurate.
Your doctor will most likely prescribe a combination of medications, such as: Angiotensin-converting enzyme
(ACE) inhibitors or their alternatives to widen blood vesselsDigoxin, also called digitalis, to help your heart pump
Beta-blockers to slow your heart rate and lower
to remove excess fluid in your body
Nitrates to dilate the blood vessels
You may also be given medications to: Thin the blood, such as
warfarinHelp manage chest pain, such as
nitroglycerinHelp manage cholesterol levelsHelp control high blood pressure
Your doctor may advise you to take supplements, such as coenzyme Q10. Follow your doctor's advice regarding taking any supplements.
If heart failure worsens, you may need medical devices to help your heart pump blood properly.
Note: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can worsen your condition. Talk to your doctor about other medications you may be able to take.
The best way to prevent heart failure is to reduce your risk of: Coronary artery diseaseHigh blood pressureDiabetes
Take these steps to reduce your risk:
Begin a safe
with the advice of your doctor.
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.Limit alcohol.
Lose weight if needed. After you have lost weight, maintain a
Eat a healthy diet. The
, in particular, may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart failure, particularly in women. The DASH diet is:
Rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foodsLow in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterolEat whole grain breakfast cereal. In addition to the other healthy habits, this may reduce your risk.
ACCF/AHA Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Heart Failure in Adults. A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines.
Congestive heart failure and congenital defects. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/TheImpactofCongenitalHeartDefects/Congestive-Heart-Failure_UCM_307111_Article.jsp#.WEWiT02QwdU. Updated January 24, 2011. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Explore heart failure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hf. Accessed March 27, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Hunt, SA, Abraham, WT, Chin, MH, et al. ACC/AHA 2005 Guideline Update for the diagnosis and management of chronic heart failure in the adult: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines.
Lifestyle changes for heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/PreventionTreatmentofHeartFailure/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Failure_UCM_306341_Article.jsp#.WEWi1k2QwdU. Updated September 20, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Paterna S, Parrinello G, Cannizzaro S, et al. Medium term effects of different dosage of diuretic, sodium, and fluid administration on neurohormonal and clinical outcome in patients with recently compensated heart failure.
Am J Cardiol.
Physical changes to report. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/PreventionTreatmentofHeartFailure/Physical-Changes-to-Report_UCM_306356_Article.jsp. Updated June 30, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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