There are many causes of heart failure, of which some of the most common include:
- coronary heart disease – the most common cause
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- damaged heart valves
- disease of the heart muscle as a result of genetic causes – for example, cardiomyopathy
- drinking alcohol excessively
- severe lung disease
- an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
Your symptoms will depend on whether the left, right or both sides of your heart are affected. Your symptoms may change depending on how far advanced your condition is. It's important to be able to recognise the symptoms of heart failure and if you feel your symptoms are getting worse, see your doctor.
Common symptoms of heart failure include:
- extreme tiredness
- swollen feet, ankles or abdomen (tummy)
Left-sided heart failure affects your lungs and your ability to breathe. Symptoms may include breathlessness at rest or during exercise, coughing, wheezing and extreme tiredness. If you have very severe heart failure, you may cough up froth or blood and you're more likely to get chest infections.
Right-sided heart failure affects the fluid balance in your body. You might get symptoms such as swollen feet, ankles and abdomen, or extreme tiredness, feeling sick and weight gain.
These symptoms aren't always caused by heart failure, but if you have them, see your doctor.
People with heart failure are more likely to have:
- a poor quality of life – this is because it's harder to carry out everyday activities
- an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)
- sexual problems
- depression – up to one third of people with heart failure have depression
- deep vein thrombosis
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
There are a number of tests your doctor may recommend that you have. Some examples are listed below.
- Blood and urine tests can check your blood count, your liver and kidney function and other indicators of heart failure.
- An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heart to see how well it's working.
- An echocardiogram uses an ultrasound probe to check the structure of your heart and see how well it's functioning.
If your doctor thinks your symptoms could also be the result of lung problems, he or she may recommend you have:
- a chest X-ray to confirm if you have heart failure and to rule out other conditions
- lung function tests, such as peak flow measurements or spirometry tests, to show how well your lungs are working
Treatment of heart failure is aimed at relieving your symptoms, making your heart stronger and improving your quality of life.
You can improve your symptoms by making various changes to your lifestyle, including:
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- cutting down on salt
- stopping smoking
- taking regular exercise
- drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all if alcohol has caused your heart failure
- maintaining a healthy weight
- monitoring how much fluid you drink and weighing yourself daily
- managing stress
- having the annual flu vaccine
If you need help with any of these lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to arrange for you to attend a rehabilitation programme and offer information and support.
There is a range of medicines available that can be used to relieve the symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer. Different medicines treat different symptoms, so you may be given more than one medicine. It's important you take each one correctly so that each can do its job properly.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
You're less likely to get heart failure if you take steps to follow a healthy lifestyle.
You can reduce your chance of getting heart failure by:
- not smoking
- losing excess weight
- doing regular physical activity – aim for 30 minutes on at least five days a week
- eating a healthy, balanced diet without too much salt
- not drinking more than four units of alcohol a day for men or three units for women
If you have a condition that can lead to heart failure, for example high blood pressure, it's important to get treatment as soon as possible to try to prevent heart failure developing.
This information was published by Bupa Group's Health Content Team and has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. To the best of their knowledge the information is current and based on reputable sources of medical evidence, however Bupa (Asia) Limited makes no representation or warranty as to the completeness or accuracy of the Content.
The information on this page, and any information on third party websites referred to on this page, is provided as a guide only. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical advice, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. Bupa (Asia) Limited is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of, or reliance on, the information.
Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. Last updated August 2017.
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