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Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where the heart muscle has become weakened, meaning it cannot pump blood around your body as efficiently as before.

The severity and causes of heart failure mean that it is unlikely to be completely cured. However, careful monitoring, medication and communication with your healthcare team can help you to manage the condition, reduce your symptoms, and live longer.

Heart failure occurs as a result of a number of conditions, the most common being:

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Heart failure can present in lots of different ways, and these may change over time. Typical symptoms of heart failure are:

If you have any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor.

May’s Story

May has been living with heart failure since 2013 after suffering a series of major heart attacks. She says: “I knew I had to get to hospital. It wasn’t a case of we’ll go in the morning. I had to, because I just couldn’t breathe.”

How is heart failure diagnosed?

To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you and do some initial tests. These may include:

  • Checking your pulse
  • Measuring your blood pressure
  • Taking blood tests and a urine sample to test kidney, liver, and thyroid function, as well as checking for diabetes and anaemia
  • Take a chest x-ray to identify potential signs of heart failure and any other possible causes of your symptoms

If you doctor thinks that you may have heart failure, they may require further tests to confirm their diagnosis or look for alternatives.
These include:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) which measures the activity of your heart and can detect a previous heart attack
  • A B-type natriuretic peptides (BNP) test – – a blood test that measures the levels of B-type natriuretic peptide (a chemical produced by your heart) in your blood. If you have unstable heart failure, the level of BNP will be increased.
  • An echocardiogram – an ultrasound scan of your heart. During this, a recorder is put on your chest, and sound waves are passed through your chest to your heart. The recorder monitors the sound waves to see where they are bounced back or stopped by solid tissue. This provides information on the size of your heart, how well your heart muscle is working and how well your heart valves are working.

How is heart failure treated?

Heart failure treatment will relieve your symptoms and make your heart stronger, improving your quality of life.

There are many different treatment options available, including medication, implanted devices, or surgery.

Your doctor will discuss the options with you, and help you decide which is best. This choice will be based on the severity of your condition, your symptoms, other conditions you may have, and the potential side effects that you may face. You should always feel able to ask questions or clarify anything that you are not sure about.

We’re here to help

Worrying about how to manage your condition or concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one?

Our Advice Line nurses are here to answer any questions or concerns you may have about heart failure. Call 0808 801 0899 for free, confidential advice and support.

Contact the Advice Line

Staying healthy following a heart failure diagnosis

When faced with a diagnosis like heart failure, it is natural and understandable to feel worried or isolated. We recommend that you have somebody with you at home for a few days or at least on the other end of the phone while you come to terms with your condition and treatment.

Make sure to look after yourself as much as possible. Cut down on salt, limit your alcohol intake, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and control your blood pressure where possible. Make sure that every day you stay active and support your own mental health and wellbeing – getting outside for a walk is great for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Stay in touch with your doctor and let them know if you notice any new or worsening symptoms. If you are suffering with side effects, speak to your doctor about alternative treatments or options to make you more comfortable.

If you are feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, or scared, know that you are not alone. A heart failure diagnosis can be massively disruptive and it’s understandable to struggle to come to terms with it. Try not to bottle up your feelings – speak to somebody you trust, keep a journal if that helps, and allow yourself to be honest about worries, fears, and distress. Support is available from your friends and family, from your medical team, and from organisations like CHSS.

To find out more about how to manage your condition and live well at home, read our Mental Wellbeing advice.

Life after a heart failure diagnosis

Life after a heart failure diagnosis can look very different, and you may feel unsure of the road ahead.

You can still live a life that you love and enjoy – and we’d like to help you.

Visit our Living with a Heart Condition section for more information about how to manage your condition at home, how to stay well and how to rebuild your future.

This page was last updated on July 19, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact health.information@chss.org.uk to provide feedback.

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