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Heart Failure

Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping blood around your body as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working, however you may need support to help it work better. Our medical experts answer your 5 top questions.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The main symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath when you’re active or resting, because you’re not getting enough oxygen

  • Swollen feet, ankles, stomach and around the lower back area, caused by fluid build up

  • Finding it harder to exercise

  • Feeling unusually tired or weak because there’s not enough blood and oxygen getting to your muscles


What causes heart failure?

There are lots of reasons why you may have heart failure. It can be sudden or it can happen slowly over months or years. The most common causes of heart failure are:

  • A heart attack – which can cause long-term damage to your heart, affecting how well the heart can pump.

  • High blood pressure - putting strain on the heart, which over time can lead to heart failure.

  • Cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart muscle. There are different types which can either be inherited or caused by other things, such as viral infections or pregnancy.heart disease

Heart failure can also be caused by:

  • Heart valve disease

  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)

  • Endocarditis – a viral infection affecting the heart muscle

  • Anaemia – a lack of oxygen carrying haemoglobin or red blood cells in your blood

  • Thyroid gland disease

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your medical history, symptoms and examine you. You may then be sent for tests such as: 

  • Blood tests 

  • An Electrocardiogram (ECG)

  • An Echocardiogram

  • Breathing tests – to see if a lung problem is causing your breathlessness

  • A chest x-ray – to check if there's fluid in your lungs or if a lung condition is causing the symptoms. 

What are the treatments for heart failure?

There isn't a cure for heart failure but the treatments available can control symptoms leading many people to live full and active lives. Your doctor will usually tell you what stage of heart failure you're in. This is graded in class from 1 to 4. 1 is the less severe and 4 is the most. Knowing this will help your doctors choose the best treatment for your condition.

Treatments for heart failure can include:

  • Medication - to improve your symptoms and reduce fluid build up

  • A pacemaker or ICD - to help your heart pump blood around your body

  • Coronary bypass surgery - if you have blocked arteries.

More information:

For more information about Heart Failure, you can find guides here by the British Heart Foundation or the NHS.

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