What Is Heart Failure?

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. If you have heart failure, this means that your heart cannot pump blood efficiently. It doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working.

If you have heart failure, your body may not get all the blood and oxygen it needs to function normally. Some blood and fluid may back up in your lungs, feet, and other parts of your body.

Many treatments can help patients with heart failure feel better.

How Does Heart Failure Affect the Body?

When your heart doesn’t function well, organs like your kidneys, liver, and lungs do not get enough blood and oxygen and won’t work normally. When this happens, fluid can build up in your feet, ankles, and legs—known as edema—or fluid can build up in your lungs, known as pulmonary edema.

Patients with heart failure can have the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath, especially when lying down
  • wheezing or coughing
  • increased heart rate
  • weight gain (fluid buildup) or weight fluctuations
  • lack of appetite or nausea
  • loss of muscle
  • overall feeling of being tired or run-down

Living With Heart Failure: Patient Guide

Even though heart failure is scary, it's not a death sentence if you get the right treatment. Read our in-depth guide about what heart failure is and how to manage heart failure.

Find a Heart Failure Specialist

What Causes Heart Failure?

Heart failure can be caused by many things, including the following:
  • heart attack (or myocardial infarction)
  • plaque buildup in the arteries of your heart (or coronary artery disease)
  • virus infecting the heart
  • abnormal genes that get passed down in a family (familial cardiomyopathy)
  • high blood pressure
  • faulty heart valves
  • abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • heart defects present at birth (congenital heart disease)
  • pregnancy
  • alcohol or drug use
  • some cancer drugs

Treatment For Heart Failure

Treatment plans for heart failure usually includes a combination of the following items:

  • medications
  • lifestyle changes
  • devices or surgical procedures


Many medications are used to treat heart failure. Doctors prescribe these medications to make you feel better, to improve the function of your heart (how your heart works), and to lower the chances that you'll need to be admitted to the hospital.

Many of these medications have also been shown to make patients with heart failure live longer.

Your doctor may start you on some of the following medications:

  • angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • neprilysin inhibitor
  • beta blockers
  • aldosterone antagonists
  • diuretics (“water pills”)
  • cholesterol lowering drugs (statins)
  • anticoagulants (blood thinners)
  • antiarrhythmics

Lifestyle Changes

A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise are important in making your heart work efficiently.

It's also very important to stop using any products that may damage your heart such as tobacco, drugs, and excessive amounts of alcohol.

Devices / Surgical Procedures

Sometimes your cardiologist may need devices or surgical procedures to treat heart failure. These may include the following:

  • Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD)—this device can treat life-threatening rhythms
  • Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT)—also known as biventricular pacing, this kind of therapy delivers pacing to the heart's ventricles to help them work in synchrony (together) and improve how you feel
  • Cardiac bypass surgery—this surgery restores flow through the arteries in your heart
  • Valve surgery—this surgery repairs or replaces your heart's valves

Treating Advanced Heart Failure

Our team also specializes in advanced heart failure treatments. Advanced heart failure treatments are used when medications and the devices/surgeries listed above don't help your heart work normally again.

  • Heart Transplantationduring heart transplantation, a patient’s diseased heart is replaced with a healthy heart from a donor.
  • Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)an LVAD is a mechanical heart pump attached to the left side of your heart that helps your heart pump blood to the rest of your body. LVADs are used while patients wait for a heart transplant. They can also be used as permanent treatment. You can also go home with an LVAD. Some patients have lived with an LVAD for many years.  
Bill Deist, heart failure patient, and Craig Selzman, MD

Hear From Our Patients

In March 2012, Bill Deist came down with a simple, run-of-the-mill cold. Or so he thought. What he discovered was a rare case in which a cold virus had begun to attack his heart. His local doctor in Winnemucca, Nevada suggested he go to University of Utah Health where he could get the expert care and attention he needed for his deteriorating condition.

In September, he saw Craig Selzman, MD, one of the country’s leading heart surgeons and director of the University of Utah Health's heart transplant program. 

Read Bill's Story