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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

What is heart failure, and what causes it?

Almost six million Americans have been diagnosed with heart failure and another 870,000 are diagnosed each year. Heart failure, or congestive heart failure, happens when the muscles in the heart are too weak to pump blood as well as they should. This mostly occurs after other conditions have weakened the heart.

The causes of heart failure include:

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in your ankles, legs, and abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent urination
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • A dry cough
  • Bloated stomach, loss of appetite, or upset stomach

What are the stages of heart failure?

  • Stage A: Also known as pre-heart failure, this stage means you have a high risk of developing heart failure due to a family history or some other medical condition, like hypertension, diabetes, or coronary artery disease.
  • Stage B: A different kind of pre-heart failure because you’ve received a diagnosis of left ventricular dysfunction by a cardiologist. 
  • Stage C: People who have received a Stage C heart failure diagnosis have currently or previously exhibited signs and symptoms.
  • Stage D: The final stage of heart failure, people diagnosed with Stage D HF-rEF have advanced symptoms that don’t get better with treatment.

Are there different types of heart failure?

  • Chronic diastolic heart failure: A person has a stiff left heart ventricle, meaning it doesn’t relax properly between heartbeats. 
  • Chronic systolic heart failure: This type occurs when your left ventricle can’t pump blood efficiently. 
  • Right-sided heart failure: Most heart failure occurs in the left side, but things like lung problems and issues in other organs can cause heart failure in the right side.

What are the risk factors for heart failure?

A single risk factor may be enough to cause heart failure, but a combination of factors will increase your risk further.

Can heart failure be reversed?

Yes, heart failure can be reversed. Lifestyle changes are often a good path to recovery from heart failure, but serious cases may require medication, implants, or surgery.

How can I prevent heart failure?

The key to prevention is reducing the risk factors you can control. Things like age and family history, you can’t change. However, here are some steps you can take to decrease your risk of heart failure:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating heart-healthy foods
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing your stress
  • Avoiding the use of tobacco products and drinking alcohol
  • Taking care of other medical conditions you have that can increase your risk

How do you treat heart failure?

As a chronic condition, heart failure needs lifelong management through lifestyle changes, treating underlying conditions, or certain medications. Different types of surgery might be needed to improve conditions that might be causing heart failure, like heart valve repair or replacement, coronary bypass surgery, or ventricular assist devices.

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