Get the facts about nutrition and dietary information. Learn about healthy food, vitamins and dietary supplements.

Symptoms, diagnosis and prevention, rehabilitaion & information of specific conditions.

Not Feeling well?


secure email

Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Health Encylopedia

Heart failure
Definition Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a disorder in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently. The term "heart failure" should not be confused with cardiac arrest, a situation in which the heart actually stops beating.
Alternative Names CHF; Congestive heart failure
Causes, incidence, and risk factors Heart failure is almost always a chronic, long-term condition, although it can sometimes develop suddenly. This condition may affect the right side, the left side, or both sides of the heart. As the heart's pumping action is lost, blood may back up into other areas of the body:
  • The liver
  • The gastrointestinal tract and extremities (
  • right-sided heart failure )
  • The lungs (
  • left-sided heart failure ) With heart failure, many organs don't receive enough oxygen and nutrients, which damages them and reduces their ability to function properly. Most areas of the body can be affected when both sides of the heart fail. The most common causes of heart failure are the chronic cardiovascular diseases hypertension (high blood pressure) and coronary artery disease . Other structural or functional causes of heart failure include the following:
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Congenital
  • heart disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Lung disease
  • Heart tumor
  • Approximately 2 out of every 100 people between the ages of 27 and 74 have heart failure. Heart failure becomes more common with advancing age.
  • Symptoms
  • Weight gain (unintentional)
  • Swelling of feet
  • and ankles
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Pronounced neck veins
  • Loss of appetite
  • ,
  • indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • With activity
  • After lying down for a while
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • ,
  • weakness , faintness
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (
  • palpitations )
  • Irregular or rapid
  • pulse
  • Decreased alertness
  • or concentration
  • Cough
  • Decreased urine production
  • (
  • oliguria )
  • Need to urinate at night
  • (
  • nocturia ) Infants may sweat during feeding (or other exertion). Symptoms may not be present in all patients with heart failure. In people with asymptomatic heart failure, symptoms may develop only after certain factors appear, including the following:
  • Infections with high
  • fever
  • Medications such as negative inotropic drugs (beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers)
  • Anemia
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (
  • arrhythmias )
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Kidney disease
  • Other risk factors include
  • obesity , excessive alcohol consumption , and a high-salt diet.
    Signs and tests A physical examination may reveal either an irregular or a rapid heartbeat . There may be distended neck veins, enlarged liver , peripheral edema (swelling of the limbs), and signs of pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs). Listening to the chest with a stethoscope ( auscultation ) may reveal lung crackles or abnormal heart sounds . Blood pressure may be normal, elevated or low. Enlargement of the heart or decreased heart functioning may be seen on several tests, including the following:
  • Echocardiogram
  • Heart catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Chest CT scan
  • Cardiac MRI
  • Nuclear heart scans
  • (
  • MUGA , RNV )
  • ECG
  • , which may also show
  • arrhythmias This disease may also alter the following test results:
  • CBC
  • Blood chemistry
  • Serum sodium
  • BUN
  • Creatinine
  • Liver function tests
  • Serum uric acid
  • Atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP)
  • Urinalysis
  • Urinary sodium
  • Creatinine clearance
  • Swan-Ganz measurements (right heart catheterization)
  • If excessive fluid has accumulated around the sac surroundig the heart (pericardium), you may need to have the fluid removed through a
  • pericardiocentesis .
    Treatment Heart failure requires monitoring of the condition by the health care provider. The first step is usually to identify and treat any underlying disorders and precipitating factors. This may require a thorough diagnostic work-up, medications or certain medical procedures (catheter procedures or surgery). The goals of treatment in heart failure include reduction of the heart's workload, control of excess salt and water retention ( swelling , decreased urinary output) and improvement of heart function. In advanced cases or when the heart failure occurs suddenly (acute heart failure), bed rest or reduced physical activity are recommended to minimize the heart's workload. If salt and fluid intake have been reduced and swelling persists or there are signs of severe systemic (body) or pulmonary (lung) congestion, it may be necessary to use diuretics (water pills). Diuretics include loop diuretics (e.g., furosemide, bumetanide) for moderate symptoms; thiazide diuretics (e.g., hydrochlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, chlorothiazide) for mild symptoms; and diuretics in combination. Potassium-sparing diuretics (spironolactone, triamterene) are frequently used to prevent excessive potassium losses. Digoxin may also be given, especially if the heart rhythm is irregular due to atrial fibrillation. Medications used to reduce the heart's workload include angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors such as captopril and enalapril, and angiotensin receptor blockers such as losartan and candesartan. Other medications frequently used are vasodilators such as hydralazine and long-acting nitrates. Some patients, particularly those with a history of coronary artery disease, may benefit from low doses of beta-blockers. Weight loss may be recommended for overweight patients. Eliminate smoking and excessive alcohol consumption (which decrease the pumping efficiency of the heart). If symptoms are very limiting and minimal activity causes difficulty breathing , or if there is no response to the initial treatment, hospitalization may be required. Hospitalized patients may receive oxygen and intravenous medications such as vasodilators and diuretics. The heart's ability to pump blood can be directly increased by medications called inotropic agents. These include dobutamine and milrinone, which are given intravenously. Unstable patients receiving several medications usually need also hemodynamic monitoring with Swan-Ganz catheterization. Severe cases require more drastic measures. For example, excess fluid can be removed through dialysis , and circulatory assistance can be provided by implanted devices such as the intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) and the left ventricular assist device (LVAD). These devices can be life-saving, but they are not permanent solutions. Patients who become dependent on circulatory support will need a heart transplant .
    Support Groups 
    Expectations (prognosis) Heart failure is a serious disorder that carries a reduced life expectancy. Many forms of heart failure can be controlled with medication and correction of underlying disorders. Heart failure is usually a chronic illness, and it may worsen with infection or other physical stressors.
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Total failure of the heart to function (circulatory collapse)
  • Arrhythmias
  • including lethal arrhythmias
  • Side effects of medications
  • Low blood pressure
  • (
  • hypotension )
  • Light-headedness
  • ,
  • fainting
  • Lupus
  • reaction
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal upset (such as
  • nausea , heartburn , diarrhea )
  • Cough
  • Muscle cramps
  • Digitalis toxicity
  • Calling your health care provider
  • Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of congestive heart failure.
  • Call your health care provider if weakness , increased cough or sputum production, sudden weight gain or swelling , or other new or unexplained symptoms develop. Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you experience severe crushing chest pain , fainting , or rapid and irregular heartbeat (particularly if other symptoms accompany a rapid and irregular heartbeat).
    Prevention Follow your health care provider's recommendations for treatment of conditions that may cause congestive heart failure. Follow dietary guidelines. Minimize or eliminate smoking and alcohol consumption .