Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump blood the way it
should. In some cases, the heart can’t fill with enough blood. In other cases,
the heart can’t send blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some
people have both problems.
Heart failure develops over time as the pumping of the heart grows weaker. It can
affect the right side of the heart only or both the left and right sides of the
heart. Most cases involve both sides of the heart. Right-side heart failure occurs
when the heart can’t pump blood to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen.
Left-side heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich
blood to the rest of the body. Right-side heart failure may cause fluid to build up
in the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and, rarely, the veins in the neck.
Right-side and left-side heart failure also cause shortness of breath and fatigue
The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart. These
include coronary artery disease (CAD), high blood pressure, and diabetes. "Heart
failure” doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop
working. However, it’s a serious condition that requires medical care.
The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are:
Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and, rarely, the veins in
All of these symptoms are due to the buildup of fluid in your body.
Prevention and Management
Taking steps to prevent coronary artery disease can help prevent heart failure.
These steps include following a heart healthy diet, not smoking, doing physical
activity, and losing weight if you’re overweight or obese.
Working with your doctor to control high blood pressure and diabetes also can help
prevent heart failure.
People who have heart failure can live longer and more active lives if it’s
diagnosed early and they follow their treatment plans.
For most women with heart failure, treatment includes prescription medications and
Currently, there’s no cure for heart failure. However, researchers are finding
and testing new treatments. These treatments offer hope for better ways to delay heart
failure and its complications.
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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the 42 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.
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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.