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What is heart failure?

Living

with heart failure

Recently diagnosed, long-time patient, or relative of a person living with heart failure?​
On this webpage, you will find all the information you need to know about heart failure and tips on how you can better live with it. ​

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where the heart is unable to pump blood around the body as well as it should.​
In other words, the heart can’t deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to allow the body to work normally.​

Heart failure is characterized by several symptoms caused by fluid accumulation and reduced blood flow. The most common symptoms are edema (fluid retention), breathlessness, and tiredness.1​

What is heart rate?​

​“It is the number of times the heart beats within a certain time period, usually a​ minute.​

The heart rate can be felt at the wrist, side of the neck, back of the knees, top of the foot, groin, and other places in the body where an artery is close to the skin. ​Measuring the heart rate gives important information about a person’s health. ​Also called pulse.”2

Did you know?

Normal heart beat should be 60-100 bpm. It can go up to 130-150 bpm when exercising.​ However, if you develop any symptoms or suspect your pulse is irregular, let your doctor know.3

What are the main symptoms?4

Fatigue: Your organs don’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients to work well, so you can feel tired easily.

Shortness of breath: Fluids may gather in your lungs, causing you to feel short of breath, when you are active, when lying flat, or walking.​

Weight gain: You may gain more than 2 kg (3 lbs) in a week because of the fluids building up in your body.​

Rapid heart beat: To compensate for its weakness, the heart may speed up.

Swelling: Fluids may gather in your legs, ankles, or abdomen causing edema.​

What can be the complications of heart failure?​

If you have heart failure, your outlook depends on the cause and the severity, your overall health, and other factors such as your age.5

Complications can include6:

  1. Irregular heartbeat
    Leaking heart valves​
    Sudden cardiac arrest​
  2. Pulmonary hypertension
    Fluid buildup in or around your lungs
  3. Liver and kidney damage:​ due to reduced blood flow and fluid buildup in your organs
  4. Malnutrition: ​because nausea and swelling in your abdomen (area around your stomach) can make it uncomfortable for you to eat

Some people’s symptoms and heart function will improve with proper treatment. However, heart failure can be life-threatening.5

Myth or fact?​

HEART FAILURE MEANS YOUR HEART HAS STOPPED BEATING7

MYTH: Heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped beating. Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle or valves have been damaged and so your heart isn’t able to pump blood around your body as well as it should.
MYTH or FACT?

HEART FAILURE CAN’T BE TREATED7

MYTH: There are many treatments available for heart failure that are very effective at reducing symptoms and delaying the progression of the condition. You should discuss treatment options with your doctor.
MYTH or FACT?

HEART FAILURE IS SERIOUS7

FACT: Heart failure is a very serious condition and can shorten your life. However, by working with your doctor and nurse, you can get effective treatments and make changes to your lifestyle that will ease your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and prolong your life.
MYTH or FACT?

IF YOU HAVE HEART FAILURE YOU SHOULDN’T EXERCISE7

MYTH: It’s very important for people with heart failure to exercise. However, it’s also important that you don’t overdo it. The right amount of exercise can help to improve blood flow and alleviate some of your symptoms.
MYTH or FACT?

HEART FAILURE IS A NORMAL CONSEQUENCE OF GETTING OLD7

MYTH: Heart failure affects all ages. Most people with heart failure are elderly; however, heart failure isn’t necessarily a consequence of age. It’s a serious cardiovascular condition that can often be prevented and greatly helped with available treatments.
MYTH or FACT?

HEART FAILURE IS COMMON7

FACT: Currently, we estimate that approximately 1% to 2% of the adult population in developed countries has heart failure, rising to ≥10% among people over 70 years of age.
MYTH or FACT?

MEASURING YOUR HEART RATE IS USELESS8

MYTH: Elevations of heart rate, if sustained, can be a risk factor both for the development of heart failure and for mortality in patients with established heart failure. That’s why you need to discuss your heart rate levels with your doctor.
MYTH or FACT?

IT IS IMPORTANT TO MANAGE HEART FAILURE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE9

FACT: Early care increases survival, avoids hospitalization, and improves quality of life.
MYTH or FACT?

Find out about stereotypes related to heart failure and tips on how to live better with your condition.​

Developed by the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology.​

Click here to download

References

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is heart failure? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure. Accessed March 23, 2021.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Definition of heart rate – NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. 2011. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/heart-rate. Accessed March 23, 2021.
  3. British Heart Foundation. What is a normal pulse rate? https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/ask-the-experts/pulse-rate. Accessed April 1, 2021.
  4. NHS. Heart Failure – Symptoms. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/symptoms/. Accessed March 23, 2021.
  5. Mayo Clinic. Heart failure – Symptoms and causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142. Accessed April 2, 2021.
  6. NHLBI, NIH. Heart Failure. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure. Accessed April 2, 2021.
  7. Heart Failure Matters. Myths and Facts About Heart Failure. https://www.heartfailurematters.org/en_GB/Understanding-heart-failure/Myths-and-facts-about-heart-failure. Accessed April 02, 2021.
  8. Ponikowski P et al. Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring in heart failure. Eur Heart J . 2019;21(Suppl M):M13‑M16.
  9. Gracia E. et al. Timely Management of New-Onset Heart Failure. Circulation. 2019;140(8):621–623.