Heart Failure

What is Heart Failure? 

Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure or CHF), is a condition in which your heart is not pumping blood efficiently. Although heart failure is a serious condition, in most cases, it is treatable and may not be life-threatening.

What Causes Heart Failure? 

Heart failure can develop quickly or slowly. The most common causes of heart failure are coronary heart disease (heart attacks), high blood pressure and diabetes.

Learn about heart problems in our health encyclopedia.

Other causes of heart failure include:

  • Cardiomyopathy (diseases that affect the heart muscle)
  • Heart valve disease (leaky valve or tight valve)
  • Arrhythmias (e.g., atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, premature ventricular contractions, tachycardia, bradycardia, ventricular fibrillation)
  • Congenital heart defects (heart problems that you are born with)
  • Radiation and/or chemotherapy
  • Thyroid or adrenal problems
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Pregnancy
  • Viral illness

Heart Failure Symptoms 

Heart failure symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Difficulty lying flat or having to sleep upright
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs or stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart

If you have chest pain or other symptoms of heart attack (pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center of the chest; indigestion or heartburn; pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; sudden excessive sweating; nausea; dizziness; or fatigue), call 911 immediately.

Heart Failure Treatment 

After a comprehensive evaluation is performed (blood work and echocardiogram) and the cause of heart failure is determined, specific therapy will be started. Generally, referral to acardiologist or heart failure management program will be made. Therapy may include lifestyle changes, medications and/or surgery. In severe cases of heart failure, referral to a heart failure transplant program should be made.

Lifestyle changes that can help to control heart failure include:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products.
  • Sodium (salt) restriction (less than 2 grams per day) and total fluid restriction (less than 2 liters [48 oz.] per day)
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Not smoking

Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Medications for the treatment of heart failure may include:

  • Diuretics (water pills) to reduce foot and ankle swelling and to reduce fluid buildup in your lungs
  • Digoxin (in some cases)
  • Medications designed to allow your heart to work efficiently, improve your quality of life and help you live longer. These may include:
    • ACE inhibitors
    • Aldosterone antagonists
    • Angiotensin receptor blockers
    • Beta blockers
    • Isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine hydrochloride

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor will work with a team of health care professionals at Wake Forest Baptist Health to help you determine your treatment options. Your team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists and others.

You may request an appointment with a Heart Center doctor by filling out our online form.

Learn more about Wake Forest Baptist's cardiology services.

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Heart-Healthy Diet

Heart-Healthy Diet

Learn which foods are heart-healthy and how they can help prevent heart disease from the cardiologists at Wake Forest Baptist Heath in Winston-Salem, NC.

Last Updated: 02-14-2014
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.