Heart Failure


Your heart is a pump. It moves blood and oxygen-rich nutrients through your body. If you have heart failure, your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should. As a result, fluid can build up in the body—most often in the legs and lungs.

Your heart also isn’t able to push enough blood to meet your body’s needs for blood and oxygen. It’s no wonder then that if you have heart failure, you may tire more easily and feel short of breath. 

About heart failure 

With heart failure, the heart muscle is either:

  • too weak and cannot pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force (systolic failure)  and/or 

If you or a loved one has heart failure, you’re not alone. Almost 6 million Americans have heart failure, and there are an additional 500,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It’s also the leading reason people 65 years of age and older end up in the hospital. 

Heart failure is a serious, lifelong condition. But by managing heart failure, people can live normal lives. The hope is to try to avoid emergency or “acute” episodes when someone would need to be in the hospital, and generally improve patients’ quality of life and ability to do the things they usually do. 

What causes heart failure?

The most common causes of heart failure include high blood pressure, heart attack and coronary artery disease. But other conditions and factors can lead to heart failure as well.

Signs and symptoms of heart failure

Many people who have heart failure will have:

  • Shortness of breath (even when doing simple tasks like dressing or walking a flight of stairs)
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, or veins in the neck
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Feelings of weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Fast weight gain, or rapid fluctuations in weight
  • Pressure or heaviness in the chest when lying flat 

Late in the disease, people may notice:

  • A lack of appetite or that they feel full more quickly
  • Weight loss (cardiac cachexia)

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Published: October 2015; updated 9/16/2016
Medical Reviewer: David E. Lanfear, MD, MS, FACC, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI

Featured Video

Although heart failure is a serious condition, it often can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.

Infographic: Heart Failure