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Heart failure

Heart failure: Introduction

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a very serious condition in which the heart muscle has been damaged. Although the heart continues to beat in heart failure, it is too weak to pump sufficient amounts of oxygen-rich blood to and from the lungs and the rest of the body. Heart failure is a common complication of heart attack and other types of heart diseases and cardiovascular diseases that damage the heart muscle. These include hypertension, heart valve disorders, arrhythmias, and cardiomyopathy. Heart failure can also result from anemia.

Any disease or condition that increases the risk of developing heart disease or cardiovascular disease also increases the risk of eventually developing heart failure as a complication. These risks include having diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include being male, of African-American ancestry, and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Having a lot of long-term stress, smoking and having a family history of heart disease or cardiovascular disease are also risk factors.

There are two types of heart failure. In left-sided heart failure, the heart is not able to pump blood effectively out to the body, which results in blood backing up into the veins that carry blood from the lungs to the heart. This increases blood pressure in the lungs and leads to the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. This is called pulmonary edema and is a very serious condition, which can be fatal. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, and low oxygen levels in the blood.

In right-sided heart failure, the weak pumping of the heart allows blood to back up in the veins that lead from the body to the heart. This leads to swelling of the lower extremities (edema) and other symptoms. For more information on symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of heart failure.

Making a diagnosis of heart failure includes a complete medical evaluation, medical history and physical examination. If symptoms are acute and severe, this is often done in an emergency room. The physical exam includes listening to the sounds of the heart and the lungs with a stethoscope. Certain sounds, such as a crackling or bubbling sound on the lungs, indicate congestion in the lungs and may point to a diagnosis of heart failure.

A chest X-ray is generally performed to see the size and shape of the heart and can reveal lung congestion and other conditions, such as pneumonia. Other tests may include an echocardiogram, which can evaluate the heart valves and determine how much blood the heart is able to pump.

Other testing may be done to rule-out or diagnose underlying causes of heart failure or other conditions that can mimic heart failure. For example, testing generally includes an EKG, which takes a picture of the electrical activity of the heart and can reveal abnormalities in the rhythm of the heart and damage done to the heart due to heart attack and some other forms of heart disease. A coronary angiogram may also be performed to look for blocked coronary arteries.

It is possible that a diagnosis of heart failure can be missed or delayed because the symptoms may develop gradually, be mild and can be similar to symptoms of other conditions. For more information about misdiagnosis and diseases and conditions that can mimic heart failure, refer to misdiagnosis of heart failure.

Treatment of heart failure can include lifestyle and dietary changes, medications, and heart transplant in some cases. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of heart failure. ...more »

Heart failure: Heart failure describes when the heart is having difficulty completing its work. The term is not the same as heart attack or cardiac arrest, when the heart may stop; heart failure involves a gradual failing of the heart. ...more »

Heart failure: Symptoms

Symptoms of heart failure can vary between individuals and can differ depending on the severity of the disease and the underlying cause. In some cases, an individual may not have symptoms until the disease has progressed and become severe. Early symptoms can develop slowly.

The primary symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath, which can occur at rest or with exertion. Shortness of ...more symptoms »

Heart failure: Treatments

Heart failure is not always fatal and the prognosis depends on the severity of heart failure, the underlying cause, age, general health, and coexisting disease, such as diabetes. The most effective heart failure treatment plans employ a multifaceted approach.

This includes preventive care aimed at minimizing the risk factors for having a heart attack ...more treatments »

Heart failure: Misdiagnosis

A diagnosis of heart failure may be overlooked or delayed because in some cases there are no symptoms until the condition becomes severe or because symptoms can develop gradually allowing a person to adapt to them. Some symptoms are vague and not specific to heart failure. These include weakness, fatigue, confusion, anxiety and dizziness. These types of ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Heart failure

Treatments for Heart failure

Home Diagnostic Testing

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Wrongly Diagnosed with Heart failure?

Heart failure: Related Patient Stories

Heart failure: Deaths

Read more about Deaths and Heart failure.

Types of Heart failure

Curable Types of Heart failure

Possibly curable types of Heart failure include:

  • Nutritional deficiencies related heart failure
  • Hypertension related heart failure
  • Diabetic cardiomyopathy related heart failure
  • Drug induced cardiomyopathy related heart failure
  • Congenital heart disease related heart failure
  • Anemia related heart failure
  • Pregnancy related heart failure
  • Beri beri related heart failure
  • more types...»

Rare Types of Heart failure:

Rare types of Heart failure include:

  • Cocaine cardiomyopathy related cardiac failure
  • Myocarditis related heart failure
  • Myxedema related heart failure
  • Polycythemia vera related heart failure
  • Carcinoid syndrome related heart failure
  • Thiamine deficiency related heart failure
  • more types...»

Diagnostic Tests for Heart failure

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Heart failure: Complications

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Causes of Heart failure

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Disease Topics Related To Heart failure

Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Heart failure:

Heart failure: Undiagnosed Conditions

Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:

Misdiagnosis and Heart failure

Heart attacks can be undiagnosed: Although the most severe symptoms of heart attack are hard to miss, there are varying degrees of severity. It is altogether too common for people to die from undiagnosed more »

Heart attacks can be overdiagnosed: Although many people die from heart attacks, there are also many cases where people fear that they have a heart attack, but actually have something milder. Some of the conditions which may be more »

Rare heart condition often undiagnosed: The rare heart condition called long QT syndrome can lead to episodes of palpitations and rapid heartbeat. In rare cases, this undiagnosed condition can be fatal. It should more »

Heart attack can be over-diagnosed: Although heart attack is often undiagnosed, leading to fatality, it can also be over-diagnosed. People become concerned that a condition is a heart attack, whereas more »

Blood pressure cuffs misdiagnose hypertension in children: One known misdiagnosis issue with hyperension, arises in relation to the simple equipment used to more »

Hypertension misdiagnosis common in children: Hypertension is often misdiagnosed in adults (see misdiagnosis of hypertension), but its misdiagnosis is more »

Heart failure: Research Doctors & Specialists

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Hospitals & Clinics: Heart failure

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Choosing the Best Hospital: More general information, not necessarily in relation to Heart failure, on hospital performance and surgical care quality:

Heart failure: Rare Types

Rare types of diseases and disorders in related medical categories:

Latest Treatments for Heart failure

Evidence Based Medicine Research for Heart failure

Medical research articles related to Heart failure include:

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Heart failure: Animations

Prognosis for Heart failure

Research about Heart failure

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Statistics for Heart failure

Heart failure: Broader Related Topics

Heart failure Message Boards

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User Interactive Forums

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Article Excerpts about Heart failure

NHLBI, Heart Failure: NHLBI (Excerpt)

Heart failure occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump enough blood through the body. Usually, the loss in pumping action is a symptom of an underlying heart problem, such as coronary artery disease.

The term heart failure suggests a sudden and complete stop of heart activity. But, actually, the heart does not suddenly stop. Rather, heart failure usually develops slowly, often over years, as the heart gradually loses its pumping ability and works less efficiently. Some people may not become aware of their condition until symptoms appear years after their heart began its decline. (Source: excerpt from NHLBI, Heart Failure: NHLBI)


Heart failure means that the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. It does NOT mean that the heart literally stops. Heart failure develops slowly over time and can have a large impact on a personís life and ability to perform daily activities of living, such as dressing, bathing, and getting around. (Source: excerpt from HEART AND CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: NWHIC)

Definitions of Heart failure:

A state of subnormal or depressed cardiac output, usually seen in patients with heart failure secondary to coronary artery, hypertensive, primary myocardial, valvular, or pericardial disease. - (Source - Diseases Database)

Inability of the heart to pump enough blood to sustain normal bodily functions - (Source - WordNet 2.1)


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