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About Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious and often complex condition, affecting more than 5 million Americans with 825,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Half of the heart failure patients in this country have an advanced stage of the disease. Heart failure results in more than 1 million hospitalizations monthly.

What is heart failure?

When your heart is healthy, it continuously pumps blood throughout the body via the circulatory system. Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes damaged and is unable to deliver enough nutrient-rich blood to meet the body’s needs for oxygen. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently. In some cases, the kidneys respond to heart failure by retaining water and, as a result, fluid builds up in the arms, legs, lungs and other organs. This condition is referred to as congestive heart failure.

While there is no cure for heart failure, medications, lifestyle changes and surgical options can alleviate symptoms and help patients lead an active life. Read about heart failure treatment.

Signs and symptoms of heart failure

Patients with heart failure may experience:

  • Shortness of breath, during exercise or rest
  • Persistent coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lack of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain
  • Weight gain


These symptoms may be a sign of heart failure or of another medical condition. If you experience one or more of the above symptoms, see your physician for an evaluation.

What causes heart failure?

In most cases, heart failure is caused by an underlying, progressive illness. Some of the conditions associated with heart failure include:

  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Infections of the heart valves and/or heart muscle (e.g., endocarditis or myocarditis)
  • Cardiac amyloidosis
  • Previous heart attack(s)
  • Coronary artery disease, narrowing of the arteries
  • Cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart) or other primary disease of the heart muscle
  • Congenital (present at birth) heart disease/defects
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Chronic lung disease and pulmonary embolism
  • Excessive sodium intake
  • Anemia and excessive blood loss
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Certain medications
  • Genetic mutations