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heart and stethoscope

Mountain States Cardiology
What is Heart Failure?


Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping blood as it should. The heart must work harder to keep up with the body's need for blood and oxygen.

Heart failure is a condition that usually takes place slowly. It most often develops following an injury to the heart such as heart attack, high blood pressure, diseases or infections of the heart muscle, or heart valves that aren't working properly. The injured heart muscle is weakened and must work harder to keep up with the body's needs for blood and oxygen. This can result in the heart becoming enlarged (cardiomyopathy). It can also result in the tired feeling many people experience first. Unfortunately, people may ignore this rundown feeling or think these symptoms are normal symptoms of aging.

Heart failure is a condition affecting 4 million to 5 million Americans. It is the most common reason people 65 and older are hospitalized. More than 400,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year.What causes congestive heart failure (CHF)?

When the heart can't pump enough blood, blood backs up in the veins. Fluid builds up, which may cause swelling (edema) in feet, ankles and legs. It is best to sit with your legs elevated as often as possible. Weight gain, shortness of breath (especially when lying down), may follow. The fluid that builds up in the lungs causes congestion. Heart failure is often called congestive heart failure (CHF) because of this congestion in the lungs. Congestive heart failure can get worse if not treated.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Only your doctor can tell if you have heart failure. Your doctor may use a number of tests such as lab work and electrocardiogram (EKG). An echocardiogram may be used to measure ejection fraction (EF). Ejection fraction measures the heart's ability to pump. A normal EF is 50% or greater. Most people with heart failure, but not all, have an EF of 40% or less.