Heart failure is a serious condition caused by the heart failing to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure. It usually occurs because the heart muscle has become too weak or stiff to work properly. If you have heart failure it does not mean that your heart is about to stop working. It means that your heart needs some support to do its job, usually in the form of medicines.
Breathlessness, feeling very tired and ankle swelling is the main symptoms of heart failure. However, all of these symptoms can have other causes, only some of which are serious. The symptoms of heart failure usually develop quickly (acute heart failure), but they can also develop gradually (chronic heart failure).
In most cases, heart failure is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. Therefore, treatment aims to find a combination of measures, including lifestyle changes, medicines, devices, or surgery that will improve heart function or help the body get rid of excess water.
In cases where heart failure has a specific cause, a cure may be possible. For example, if your heart valves are damaged, it may be possible to replace them, which can cure heart failure.
As treatment will usually be lifelong, you and your doctor will need to find a balance of effective treatments that you can manage in the long-term so that you have the best symptom control and quality of life possible.
Effective treatment for heart failure can have the following benefits:
- it helps make the heart stronger
- it improves your symptoms
- it reduces the risk of a flare-up
- it allows people with the condition to live longer and fuller lives
See these leaflets for more information on some of the heart failure treatment which may be recommended to you by your doctor:
- ACEI (Ramipril) patient decision aid
- Ramipril medication leaflet
- B-blocker (bisoprolol) patient decision aid
- B-blocker medication leaflet
Preventing Heart Failure
Many of the factors that increase your risk of developing heart failure can be managed either by making lifestyle changes or by taking medicines.
For example, in terms of lifestyle factors, you should:
- Stop Smoking
- Keep your Blood Pressure at a healthy level
- Keep your Cholesterol Level under control
- Maintain a healthy weight (neither too fat nor too thin)
- eat healthily, including avoiding excess salt in your diet (severe salt restriction is rarely necessary and is not good for most people); most people should also ensure they have enough iron in their diet (eating red meat or iron supplements can help this)
- exercise regularly
- limit your alcohol consumption
Living with Heart Failure
Being diagnosed with heart failure may come as a shock. While the outlook is related to age, the severity of the heart condition, and any other health problems that may exist, such as lung or kidney disease, anaemia and diabetes, it also depends on what you do to reduce your risk.
Self care means taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing, with support from the people who are involved in your care. It is very important that you take any prescribed medication, even after you feel better. Some medicines are designed to protect or heal your heart. If you do not take them, they cannot help and the underlying problem will get worse. The medicines can prevent or delay your heart problem and symptoms from getting worse.
Speak to your healthcare team if you have any questions or concerns about the medication you are taking or any side effects.
As heart failure is a long-term condition, you will have regular contact with your healthcare team. Developing a good relationship with the members of your team will enable you to discuss your symptoms and any concerns that you have. The more the team knows about you, the more they can help you.