Heart Failure

Heart Failure

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Learn more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and drugs used to treat Heart Failure.

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This content is intended for US audiences only

Stefano Mirabello NowPatientGreen tick
Created on 16 Jul 2024
Updated on 17 Jul 2024

Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure-CHF) is a chronic condition characterized by the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. It affects millions of people worldwide and can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Here, we provide you with an in-depth overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for heart failure.

What is the definition of heart failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart’s pumping ability is weakened, leading to a reduced blood flow to vital organs and tissues. There are two main types of heart failure:

Systolic Heart Failure

This type occurs when the heart’s left ventricle fails to contract effectively, leading to a decreased ejection fraction and reduced pumping capacity

Diastolic Heart Failure

Also known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), this type occurs when the left ventricle becomes stiff and unable to relax properly during the filling phase, leading to impaired filling of the heart

What are the risk factors associated with heart failure?

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing heart failure. These risk factors can be categorized into modifiable and non-modifiable factors. Understanding these risk factors is crucial for identifying individuals at higher risk and implementing preventive measures. Here are some common risk factors associated with heart failure:


The risk of heart failure increases with age, particularly in individuals over 65 years old

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts strain on the heart, leading to its gradual weakening

Coronary Artery Disease

Narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, typically due to atherosclerosis, can restrict blood flow to the heart and cause heart muscle damage

Previous Heart Attack

A history of a heart attack increases the risk of developing heart failure due to the damage caused to the heart muscle during the event


Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of heart failure. The elevated blood sugar levels and associated metabolic changes can damage the blood vessels and the heart muscle over time


Excess body weight puts additional stress on the heart, leading to an increased risk of heart failure. Obesity is often associated with other risk factors like hypertension and diabetes

Tobacco Smoking

Smoking damages blood vessels, reduces oxygen supply to tissues, and increases the risk of developing heart disease, including heart failure

Family History

Having a family history of heart failure or cardiovascular diseases increases the risk. Genetic factors can contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to heart failure

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, a condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, can be associated with an increased risk of heart failure due to the strain it places on the cardiovascular system

Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption and illicit drug use can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart failure

Heart Valve Abnormalities

Structural abnormalities or diseases of the heart valves can impair the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently and increase the risk of heart failure

Certain Medications and Chemotherapy

Some medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain cancer treatments (chemotherapy agents), and certain medications used for psychiatric conditions, can increase the risk of heart failure

It’s important to note that having one or more risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean a person will develop heart failure. However, individuals with these risk factors should be vigilant about adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, managing any existing health conditions, and seeking regular medical check-ups to minimize the risk and promote cardiovascular health.

What are the causes of heart failure?

Heart failure can have various causes, including other medical conditions. Multiple factors contribute to its development. Here are some common causes of heart failure:

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, which occurs when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). This reduces blood flow to the heart muscle, leading to damage and weakening of the heart

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

A heart attack occurs when a blockage in one or more coronary arteries completely interrupts blood flow to a section of the heart muscle. The lack of blood supply causes permanent damage to the affected area, impairing the heart’s pumping ability and increasing the risk of heart failure

(Hypertension) High Blood Pressure

Prolonged elevation of blood pressure forces the heart to work harder to pump blood against increased resistance. Over time, this extra workload can weaken the heart muscle, leading to heart failure


Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart’s pumping ability. There are different types of cardiomyopathy, including dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and restrictive cardiomyopathy, each with its own causes and characteristics

Heart Valve Disorders

Malfunctioning heart valves, such as mitral valve regurgitation or aortic valve stenosis, can disrupt normal blood flow through the heart, causing the heart muscle to become strained and potentially leading to heart failure


Abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, can affect the heart’s pumping ability over time, leading to heart failure

Congenital Heart Defects

Certain structural abnormalities of the heart present at birth can impair its normal functioning and contribute to heart failure later in life

Uncontrolled Diabetes

Uncontrolled diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves, affecting the heart’s blood supply and increasing the risk of heart failure

Drug Abuse and Alcohol

Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption or drug abuse, particularly cocaine or amphetamines, can lead to heart muscle damage and weaken the heart’s pumping ability

Infections and Inflammation

Some infections, such as viral myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), can result in heart failure. Inflammatory conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can also affect the heart

Thyroid Disorders

Both an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can contribute to heart failure

It’s important to caution that these causes can interact and overlap, and in many cases, heart failure may result from a combination of factors. Identifying the underlying cause of heart failure is crucial for tailoring treatment strategies and managing the condition effectively.

What are the different types of heart failure?

Heart failure can be categorized into two main types based on the functioning of the heart and the underlying pathophysiology:

Systolic Heart Failure (HFrEF)

Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart’s left ventricle (the main pumping chamber) fails to contract effectively during each heartbeat, leading to a reduced ejection fraction (EF). Ejection fraction is the percentage of blood pumped out of the ventricle with each contraction. In systolic heart failure, the ejection fraction is typically below the normal range of 50-55%. The impaired contraction of the ventricle results in decreased blood being pumped out to the body, leading to symptoms of heart failure. Systolic heart failure is also known as heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF).

Diastolic Heart Failure (HFpEF)

Diastolic heart failure, also called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), occurs when the heart’s left ventricle becomes stiff and loses its ability to relax properly during the filling phase of the cardiac cycle. This stiffness leads to impaired filling of the ventricle and reduced blood volume in the ventricle before each contraction. Although the ejection fraction may be normal or near-normal in diastolic heart failure, the overall filling and pumping capacity of the heart are compromised, leading to symptoms of heart failure. Diastolic heart failure is typically characterized by a preserved ejection fraction of 50% or higher.

Understanding the type of heart failure is important because it guides treatment strategies. Medications, lifestyle modifications, and other interventions may differ depending on whether the heart failure is predominantly systolic or diastolic. It’s essential to work closely with healthcare professionals to determine the specific type of heart failure and develop an appropriate management plan.

What is the pathophysiology of heart failure?

The pathophysiology of heart failure involves a complex interplay of various mechanisms that contribute to the impaired functioning of the heart. While the specific pathophysiological processes may differ between systolic and diastolic heart failure, there are some common underlying mechanisms. Here is an overview of the key pathophysiological aspects of heart failure:

  • Cardiac Remodeling: In response to chronic conditions such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, or myocardial infarction, the heart undergoes structural changes known as cardiac remodeling. These changes can include myocardial hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart muscle cells), fibrosis (excessive deposition of collagen), and changes in the shape and size of the heart chambers. Initially, cardiac remodeling may be adaptive to compensate for the impaired heart function, but over time, it can contribute to further deterioration of cardiac performance
  • Impaired Contractility: In systolic heart failure, there is a decreased contractility of the heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes). This leads to a reduced ejection fraction, meaning the heart is less effective in pumping blood out of the ventricles with each contraction. The impaired contractility can result from factors such as myocardial damage, inadequate energy production within cardiomyocytes, and altered calcium handling
  • Increased Afterload: Afterload refers to the resistance that the heart must overcome to eject blood out of the left ventricle. In conditions such as hypertension, the increased pressure in the arterial system creates a higher afterload for the heart. Over time, the increased afterload can cause the heart muscle to thicken (left ventricular hypertrophy) and reduce its ability to effectively pump blood
  • Decreased Preload: Preload refers to the amount of blood returning to the heart and filling the ventricles during diastole (relaxation phase). In heart failure, the impaired relaxation or increased stiffness of the ventricles can lead to reduced filling and decreased preload. This compromises the heart’s ability to generate an adequate stroke volume and pump blood efficiently
  • Neurohormonal Activation: Heart failure triggers compensatory mechanisms involving the release of various neurohormones such as norepinephrine, renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), and cytokines. While these mechanisms initially attempt to restore cardiac output, prolonged activation can contribute to further damage and remodeling of the heart, as well as vasoconstriction and fluid retention, exacerbating heart failure symptoms
  • Fluid Retention and Congestion: Heart failure can lead to fluid retention in the body, resulting in systemic congestion. The reduced pumping efficiency of the heart can cause blood to back up into the veins and capillaries, leading to edema (swelling) in the legs, ankles, and other parts of the body. Additionally, fluid can accumulate in the lungs, causing pulmonary congestion and contributing to shortness of breath

These pathophysiological processes in heart failure lead to a reduced cardiac output, inadequate tissue perfusion, and the characteristic symptoms associated with heart failure, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and fluid retention.

What are the signs and symptoms of heart failure?

Heart failure can present with a variety of signs and symptoms that can vary in severity and manifestation. The symptoms typically develop gradually and may worsen over time. Here are some common signs and symptoms of heart failure:

Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity or when lying flat (orthopnea), is a common symptom of heart failure. It occurs due to fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary congestion), making it difficult to breathe and resulting in a sensation of breathlessness

Fatigue and Weakness

Feelings of fatigue, weakness, and reduced exercise tolerance are common in individuals with heart failure. The heart’s reduced pumping capacity leads to inadequate blood supply to the muscles and organs, causing fatigue and an overall sense of weakness

Swelling (Edema)

Heart failure can cause fluid retention, resulting in swelling in the legs, ankles, feet (peripheral edema), or abdomen (ascites). This swelling occurs due to increased fluid pressure in the blood vessels, leading to leakage of fluid into the surrounding tissues

Rapid or Irregular Heartbeat

Heart failure can cause changes in heart rhythm, leading to palpitations, a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), or an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias). These rhythm disturbances can be caused by the heart’s attempt to compensate for the reduced pumping ability

Persistent Coughing or Wheezing

Fluid accumulation in the lungs can cause a persistent cough that may be dry or produce white or pinkish sputum. Wheezing and shortness of breath may also occur due to fluid backing up into the lungs

Decreased Appetite and Nausea

Heart failure can affect the digestive system, leading to a decreased appetite and feelings of nausea. This can result from congestion in the liver and gastrointestinal tract, impacting normal digestion and nutrient absorption

Sudden Weight Gain

Fluid retention in heart failure can lead to sudden weight gain over a short period. Monitoring body weight can be an important indicator of fluid retention and worsening heart failure

Mental Confusion or Impaired Thinking

In some cases, heart failure can affect brain function, leading to mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and impaired thinking

What are the stages of heart failure (UK)?

In the United Kingdom, heart failure is often classified using the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which define four stages of heart failure. These stages help healthcare professionals assess the severity of the condition and guide treatment decisions. Here are the stages of heart failure as per the NICE guidelines:

  • Stage 1: At this stage, individuals have no symptoms of heart failure, and there is no limitation on their physical activity. Structural heart disease may be present, such as left ventricular hypertrophy or previous myocardial infarction, but there is no evidence of current or previous heart failure symptoms
  • Stage 2: In this stage, individuals have mild symptoms of heart failure, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or reduced exercise tolerance. Symptoms typically occur with moderate physical exertion, such as climbing stairs. There may be mild limitations on physical activity, but individuals can still carry out most activities of daily living without significant discomfort
  • Stage 3: At this stage, individuals have moderate symptoms of heart failure, resulting in marked limitations on physical activity. They may experience symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or palpitations, even with minimal exertion. They can perform less demanding activities of daily living, but significant discomfort and breathlessness may be present
  • Stage 4: This is the most severe stage of heart failure. Individuals have severe symptoms even at rest and are unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort. They experience significant limitations in their daily activities and may require assistance for basic tasks

These stages help healthcare professionals assess the severity and impact of heart failure on an individual’s daily life. They guide treatment decisions and the need for interventions such as medication adjustments, lifestyle modifications, or referrals to specialized heart failure services. It’s important to note that the stages may change over time based on the progression of the condition and response to treatment. Regular follow-up with healthcare providers is crucial to monitor the stage and adjust the management plan as needed.

What is the association between Iron Deficiency and heart failure?

Heart failure leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs and in the extremities, such as the feet and legs, resulting in edema or swelling. This happens because the heart is unable to sufficiently circulate blood throughout the body, resulting in inadequate oxygen supply to the organs. One of the potential complications of heart failure is chronic kidney disease (CKD). In CKD, damage to the kidney’s blood vessels hinders their ability to receive adequate oxygen and filter the blood efficiently. CKD can also affect the production of erythropoietin (EPO), a protein made by the kidneys that aids in red blood cell production. Lower EPO levels can lead to anemia, another potential complication of heart failure. Individuals hospitalized with acute heart failure who also present iron deficiency (ID) are more likely to experience extended and costlier hospital stays, along with a higher risk of readmission.

What are the stages of heart failure (US)?

In the United States, heart failure is often classified using the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) staging system. This system helps healthcare professionals assess the progression and severity of heart failure. The ACC/AHA stages are as follows:

  • Stage A: This stage includes individuals who are at high risk for developing heart failure but have no structural heart disease or symptoms. It includes people with risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, or a family history of heart failure
  • Stage B: Individuals in this stage have structural heart disease but have not yet developed symptoms of heart failure. They may have a history of heart attack, previous heart damage, or abnormal echocardiogram results indicating reduced heart function
  • Stage C: This stage represents individuals with structural heart disease who have experienced or currently have symptoms of heart failure. They may have symptoms at rest or with minimal physical exertion
  • Stage D: Individuals in this stage have advanced heart failure requiring specialized interventions. They experience severe symptoms even at rest and are unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort. Stage D includes both individuals who require advanced heart failure treatment options such as heart transplantation, mechanical circulatory support, or palliative care, as well as individuals in end-stage heart failure who may require end-of-life care

Stage C is further divided into:

  • Stage C1: Individuals have no limitation of physical activity. They do not experience symptoms with ordinary physical exertion but may experience symptoms with strenuous activity
  • Stage C2: Individuals have slight limitations of physical activity. They experience symptoms with ordinary physical exertion but can perform most activities of daily living without significant discomfort
  • Stage C3: Individuals have marked limitations of physical activity. They experience symptoms with less than ordinary physical exertion and are comfortable only at rest. They may experience significant discomfort with any physical activity

How is heart failure diagnosed?

The diagnosis of heart failure involves a comprehensive evaluation of a person’s medical history, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests. Here are the key steps and tests involved in diagnosing heart failure:

Medical History and Physical Examination

The healthcare provider will gather information about the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and risk factors. They will conduct a thorough physical examination, including listening to the heart and lungs, checking for signs of fluid retention (edema), and assessing overall cardiovascular health

Symptom Assessment

The healthcare provider will inquire about symptoms commonly associated with heart failure, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling in the legs, and difficulty performing routine activities

Blood Tests

Blood tests are performed to assess various parameters, including kidney function, liver function, electrolyte levels, and levels of certain biomarkers such as brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) or N-terminal pro-BNP (NT-proBNP). Elevated levels of these biomarkers may indicate heart failure

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray can help evaluate the size and shape of the heart, as well as identify any fluid accumulation in the lungs or other signs of heart failure

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help identify rhythm disturbances, previous heart attacks, or other heart abnormalities that may contribute to heart failure


An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to provide detailed images of the heart’s structure and function. It can assess the heart’s pumping capacity, ejection fraction (EF), and identify any structural abnormalities or valve problems

Stress Tests

In some cases, stress tests may be performed to evaluate the heart’s response to physical activity or stress. This can help assess exercise tolerance and detect any underlying heart problems that may contribute to heart failure

Cardiac Catheterization

In certain situations, a cardiac catheterization may be performed to assess the blood flow in the coronary arteries and evaluate the heart’s overall function

Other Tests

Additional tests may be conducted as needed, including nuclear imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans, depending on the specific clinical presentation and suspected underlying causes

How is heart failure prevented?

Preventing heart failure involves adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and managing risk factors that can contribute to its development. While not all cases of heart failure can be prevented, there are several strategies that can help reduce the risk. Here are some key preventive measures:

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Follow a Balanced Diet: Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats
  • Exercise Regularly to maintain heart health: Engage in regular physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Maintain a healthy body weight through a combination of balanced diet and regular exercise
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption: If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For men, this means up to two drinks per day, and for women, one drink per day
  • Avoid Smoking: Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, as smoking significantly increases the risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases

Manage Risk Factors

  • Control High Blood Pressure: Monitor blood pressure regularly and work with a healthcare professional to maintain it within a healthy range (usually below 120/80 mmHg)
  • Manage Diabetes: Keep blood sugar levels under control through lifestyle modifications, medication, and regular monitoring
  • Control Cholesterol Levels: Maintain healthy cholesterol levels by adopting a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, and, if necessary, taking prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Manage Stress: Adopt stress-reducing techniques such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation and mental well-being
  • Treat Sleep Apnea: If diagnosed with sleep apnea, follow the prescribed treatment plan, such as using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, to improve breathing during sleep
  • Limit Sodium Intake: Reduce sodium (salt) intake in the diet, as excess sodium can contribute to fluid retention and increased blood pressure

Regular Medical Check-ups

  • Attend Regular Check-ups: Schedule routine visits with a healthcare professional to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall cardiovascular health
  • Follow Medication Regimen: Take prescribed medications as directed to manage underlying health conditions and reduce the risk of complications that can contribute to heart failure
  • Stay Informed: Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heart failure and seek prompt medical attention if any symptoms arise

What are treatment and management options for heart failure?

The treatment and management of heart failure aim to alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life, slow disease progression, and reduce the risk of complications. The specific treatment plan depends on the underlying cause, the severity of heart failure, and individual patient characteristics. Here are some common treatment and management options for heart failure:

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Dietary Changes: Follow a heart-healthy diet low in sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats, and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats
  • Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity as recommended by a healthcare professional. Exercise helps improve cardiovascular fitness, stamina, and overall well-being
  • Fluid and Sodium Restriction: Limit fluid intake and adhere to recommended sodium restrictions, as excessive fluid and sodium intake can contribute to fluid retention and worsening heart failure symptoms
  • Weight Management: Maintain a healthy weight through a combination of diet and exercise, as excessive weight can strain the heart

Medications to treat heart failure

  • Diuretics: Diuretics, such as loop diuretics, help eliminate excess fluid from the body and reduce symptoms of fluid retention, such as swelling and shortness of breath
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors or Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs): These medications help relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and reduce the workload on the heart
  • Beta-Blockers: Beta-blockers slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and improve heart function
  • Aldosterone Antagonists: These medications help reduce fluid retention and improve heart function
  • Digoxin: Digoxin improves heart function and helps control heart rate in some cases
  • Other Medications: Additional medications may be prescribed depending on the specific needs of the patient, such as antiplatelet agents, anticoagulants, or medications to manage underlying conditions like diabetes or arrhythmias

Devices and Procedures

  • Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD): An ICD is a small device placed under the skin that helps monitor heart rhythm and delivers electrical shocks to restore normal heart rhythm if a life-threatening arrhythmia occurs
  • Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT): CRT involves implanting a special pacemaker that coordinates the contractions of the heart’s chambers to improve pumping efficiency
  • Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs): VADs are mechanical devices that help support heart function and blood flow in individuals with advanced heart failure
  • Heart Transplant: In severe cases of heart failure that are unresponsive to other treatments, heart transplantation may be considered

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation programs involve supervised exercise, education, and counseling to help individuals with heart failure improve physical fitness, manage symptoms, and adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle

Emotional Support and Education

Emotional support and education are essential components of heart failure management. Individuals and their caregivers can benefit from education on managing medications, lifestyle modifications, recognizing symptoms, and understanding when to seek medical help

Treatment and management plans for heart failure are individualized based on the specific needs of each patient. Regular follow-up with healthcare professionals, adherence to medication regimens, lifestyle modifications, and ongoing support are crucial for effectively managing heart failure and improving overall outcomes.

What medications are used in heart failure?

Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors

  • Lisinopril
  • Enalapril
  • Ramipril
  • Captopril

Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs)

  • Losartan
  • Valsartan
  • Candesartan


  • Carvedilol
  • Bisoprolol
  • Metoprolol succinate
  • Nebivolol

Mineralocorticoid Receptor Antagonists (MRAs)

  • Spironolactone
  • Eplerenone


  • Furosemide
  • Bumetanide
  • Hydrochlorothiazide


Digoxin helps improve heart function and control heart rate in certain cases


Sacubitril/valsartan is a combination medication that combines a neprilysin inhibitor (sacubitril) with an ARB (valsartan). It is used in patients with reduced ejection fraction heart failure


Ivabradine is a medication that lowers heart rate and is used in certain cases to improve heart function

Hydralazine and Isosorbide Dinitrate

This combination medication is used in individuals who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors or ARBs

What are the complications of heart failure?

Heart failure can lead to various complications, some of which can be serious and affect multiple organ systems. These complications can worsen the prognosis and quality of life for individuals with heart failure. Here are some common complications associated with heart failure:

  • Fluid Accumulation and Oedema: Heart failure can cause fluid retention, leading to edema (swelling) in the legs, ankles, abdomen, or other parts of the body. Fluid can also accumulate in the lungs, causing pulmonary edema and difficulty breathing
  • Kidney Problems: Decreased blood flow and increased fluid retention can strain the kidneys and impair their ability to filter waste and excess fluid from the body. This can lead to reduced kidney function, electrolyte imbalances, and fluid overload
  • Arrhythmias: Heart failure can disrupt the electrical signals in the heart, leading to irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These abnormal rhythms can be life-threatening, potentially resulting in palpitations, dizziness, fainting, or even sudden cardiac arrest
  • Blood Clots: Stagnant blood flow and changes in blood composition associated with heart failure increase the risk of blood clot formation. Blood clots can lead to serious complications such as stroke or pulmonary embolism if they travel to the brain or lungs, respectively
  • Liver Congestion: In advanced heart failure, blood may back up into the liver, causing congestion and impaired liver function. This can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, enlarged liver, and abnormal liver function tests
  • Pulmonary Hypertension: Over time, the increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries due to heart failure can lead to pulmonary hypertension. This condition puts additional strain on the heart and can lead to further heart failure symptoms
  • Cardiac Cachexia: Severe heart failure can result in cardiac cachexia, which is marked by significant weight loss, muscle wasting, weakness, and fatigue. It is associated with poor prognosis and increased mortality
  • Reduced Exercise Tolerance and Quality of Life: Heart failure can limit a person’s ability to engage in physical activities, leading to reduced exercise tolerance, fatigue, and decreased quality of life
  • Emotional and Psychological Impact: Living with heart failure can cause emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and reduced overall well-being. These psychological factors can further impact the management and prognosis of heart failure

Promising research and future direction of heart failure

Research in the field of heart failure is ongoing, with the aim of improving treatment options, enhancing outcomes, and ultimately finding a cure. Some promising areas of research and future directions in heart failure include:

  • Precision Medicine: Advancements in genetics and molecular biology are paving the way for personalized approaches to heart failure treatment. By identifying specific genetic markers and molecular targets, researchers aim to develop tailored therapies based on an individual’s unique characteristics and underlying disease mechanisms
  • Novel Therapies: Researchers are exploring new drug targets and treatment modalities for heart failure. This includes investigating innovative medications, gene therapies, stem cell therapies, and regenerative medicine approaches to restore damaged heart tissue, improve heart function, and promote cardiac repair
  • Remote Monitoring and telemedicine: The use of digital health technologies, remote monitoring devices, and telemedicine is becoming increasingly prevalent in heart failure management. These tools enable healthcare providers to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs, symptoms, and medication adherence, allowing for early detection of changes in condition and timely interventions
  • Biomarkers and Predictive Modeling: Ongoing research aims to identify reliable biomarkers and develop predictive models that can help diagnose heart failure earlier, assess disease progression, predict treatment responses, and guide individualized patient care
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques hold promise in analyzing complex datasets, predicting patient outcomes, optimizing treatment strategies, and providing personalized recommendations for heart failure management
  • Cardiac Devices and Implantable Technologies: Researchers are continuously improving cardiac devices, such as implantable defibrillators, pacemakers, and ventricular assist devices (VADs). These devices help regulate heart rhythm, improve cardiac function, and provide mechanical support to the heart in advanced heart failure cases
  • Heart Failure Prevention and Risk Factor Management: Efforts are being made to enhance preventive strategies and optimize management of risk factors for heart failure, such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and lifestyle factors. This includes exploring innovative approaches to behavioral interventions, promoting healthy lifestyles, and implementing population-based prevention programs

What heart failure support organizations are there available to support me in the UK?

  • British Heart Foundation (BHF): The British Heart Foundation is the largest heart charity in the UK. They provide support and information for individuals living with heart conditions, including heart failure. Their website offers resources, advice on managing heart failure, support for lifestyle changes, and information on research advancements
  • Pumping Marvellous Foundation: The Pumping Marvellous Foundation is a patient-led heart failure charity that aims to support individuals living with heart failure. They offer online forums, educational materials, personal support, and advocacy for better heart failure care
  • Arrhythmia Alliance: The Arrhythmia Alliance is a UK charity dedicated to raising awareness and providing support for individuals with heart rhythm disorders, including those with heart failure. They offer resources, educational materials, and a helpline for guidance and support
  • Heart Failure Policy Network (HFPN): The HFPN is a multidisciplinary network that works to improve policy and care for individuals with heart failure in the UK. They provide resources, reports, and information on best practices in heart failure management
  • Cardiomyopathy UK: Cardiomyopathy UK is a charity organization that provides support and information for individuals with cardiomyopathy, a common cause of heart failure. They offer a helpline, support groups, educational materials, and assistance in navigating the healthcare system

What heart failure support organizations are there available to support me in the US?

  • American Heart Association (AHA): The American Heart Association is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to cardiovascular health. They provide resources, educational materials, and support for individuals and families affected by heart failure. Their website offers information on heart failure management, lifestyle changes, and treatment options
  • Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA): The HFSA is a professional organization focused on advancing heart failure research, education, and patient care. They provide resources, guidelines, and information on heart failure treatment and management. Their website offers patient education materials and a directory to help find heart failure specialists
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): The NHLBI is a government agency that provides resources, research, and information on heart, lung, and blood disorders, including heart failure. They offer educational materials, clinical trial information, and resources for managing heart failure
  • Mended Hearts: Mended Hearts is a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources for individuals with heart disease, including heart failure. They offer local support groups, educational materials, and a helpline for individuals and families impacted by heart conditions
  • The Heart Failure Society of America Patient Hub: The Patient Hub is an online community and resource center created by the Heart Failure Society of America. It provides educational materials, personal stories, and a forum for individuals with heart failure to connect and share experiences
  • The National Institutes of Health


Heart failure is a chronic condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It is often a progressive condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. The prognosis for heart failure varies depending on the underlying cause, the severity of the condition, the individual’s response to treatment, and other factors. With appropriate management and lifestyle modifications, many people with heart failure can lead fulfilling lives and experience improved symptoms and outcomes.

It is important for individuals with heart failure to work closely with their healthcare providers to develop an individualized treatment plan and receive ongoing care and support. Regular monitoring and adherence to recommended lifestyle modifications and medications are key to managing heart failure effectively.

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NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information on this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

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Meet our medical team

We are a passionate group of clinicians and medical writers covering a broad range of specialities with experience operating in health systems in the United Kingdom & United States. Providing excellent care and advice is at the heart of everything we do. You can read more about our medical team by visiting the medical team page or learn more about how we curate content by visiting our editorial process

Your Questions Answered

For your peace of mind, we can answer your questions quickly

We have a comprehensive list of FAQ’s on each feature page. Alternatively, for broader questions around our service just click the button below.
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