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Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Chronic Heart Failure

Chronic Heart Failure Infographic

Chronic heart failure, also known simply as heart failure, affects approximately 6.2 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news is that early treatment and lifestyle changes can extend your life.

What is chronic heart failure?

Chronic heart failure doesn't mean the heart stops beating but that the heart muscle doesn't pump blood as it should, potentially damaging other organs. Chronic heart failure can appear gradually or come on suddenly. If left untreated, it generally worsens over time.

Be aware of chronic heart failure symptoms

Symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid or irregular heartbeat, weak legs, nausea, lack of appetite, and swelling in the feet, ankles, lower legs, or abdomen. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a health care professional.

Chronic heart failure vs. heart attack

Both conditions are serious but different. During a heart attack, blood flow doesn't reach the heart, and the heart's tissues don't get needed oxygen. If you have chronic heart failure, the heart can't pump enough blood to organs, causing congestion or swelling in other parts of the body.

What causes chronic heart failure?

Coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, kidney disease, obesity, and tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drug use can all contribute to heart failure. If you have had cancer, the strong medications taken during treatment may also play a role.

Treatment options

Your cardiologist will develop a treatment plan if you have been diagnosed with chronic heart failure. Underlying causes like diabetes and high blood pressure can be treated with medications. Your cardiologist also may suggest additional medications, surgery, or angioplasty to clear clogged blood vessels or decide to implant a pacemaker or artificial heart valves.

Lifestyle changes for a better quality of life

Early diagnosis and treatment aren't the only factors for a successful prognosis. Lifestyle changes may be in order, too. Changing to a heart-healthy diet, lowering sodium intake, losing weight, exercising, sleeping more, and quitting tobacco, alcohol, and/or recreational drug use may all help improve your condition.