Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition that develops when the heart's muscle becomes weakened after it is injured from something like a heart attack or blood pressure, and loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs.

It is a very common disease and affects nearly 5 million Americans, and an estimated 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

What are the warning signs and symptoms of heart failure?

There is an acronym to help you remember the symptoms of heart failure: FACES
F for fatigue
A for activities limited
C for chest congestion
E for edema or ankle swelling
S for shortness of breath

How is heart failure detected?

The most common method of diagnosing cardiomyopathy is an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a chest x-ray. An EKG measures the electrical activity of your heart and a chest x-ray takes a picture of your heart to examine its configuration and size. Other imaging tests that may be ordered are as follows:

  • Echocardiogram, or "echo": Determines if a portion of the heart muscle is not pumping, if the heart valves are leaking, or if there is a hole in the heart.
  • Blood Tests: To assess kidney and thyroid function, check cholesterol and check for anemia.

What are the treatment options for heart failure?

People suffering from heart failure can almost always be helped by a combination of changes in lifestyle and medication. Your doctor will select the most appropriate treatment for you.


Depending on the type and severity of your heart failure, your doctor may use the following medications:

  • Diuretics or "water pills" decrease fluid retention and reduce swelling
  • Digoxin improves heart strength in some people
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors dilate or widen blood vessels, increase blood flow, and block hormones harmful to the heart and blood vessels
  • Adrenergic Receptive Blockers (Beta Blockers) help strengthen the heart's pumping action and block the body's response to substances which can damage the heart
  • Aldosterone Receptor Blockers (ARBs) reduce scarring and stiffening of the heart and blood vessels


Heart failure is a progressive disease that can worsen over time without treatment. Sometimes, surgical intervention helps. Some surgeries involve removal of damaged heart muscle, repair of damaged valves, or surgery to correct blocked arteries. In extreme cases, heart transplantation may be necessary, whereby surgeons remove your damaged heart and replace it with a human heart from an organ donor.