Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak or too stiff to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal.
Breathlessness or shortness of breath, loss of appetite, feeling very tired, weight gain and swollen legs, ankles, belly or feet, tiredness, dizziness and coughing are the main symptoms of heart failure.
Sometimes the symptoms of heart failure can develop quickly (acute heart failure). However, they usually develop gradually, over time (chronic heart failure).
Heart failure does not usually have a single cause. There are a number of health conditions that increase your risks of developing heart failure including:
- coronary heart disease
- high blood pressure
- heart attack
- heart muscle damage (cardiomyopathy)
- heart rhythm disturbance (atrial fibrillation and others)
- heart valve disease (damage or problems with the heart’s valves)
Sometimes an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can also lead to heart failure.
In most cases, heart failure is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured.
Personal story: heart failure
Being diagnosed with heart failure can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.
Watch this video about a patient's experience after being diagnosed with heart failure.
Video Copyright: ©2013 University of Oxford. Used under licence from DIPEx. All rights reserved.
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Last reviewed: July 2018