CARDIOVASCULAR
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About Heart Failure

Heart failure is not a heart attack. Heart failure — sometimes called a weak heart — is a long-term condition and can get worse over time. It happens when the heart muscle gets so weak it can no longer pump blood well enough to meet the body's needs.1  

If not managed and treated, it can lead to poor quality of life, hospitalizations and death. Heart failure causes more than 377,000 deaths each year in the United States.2
 

Some Common Causes of Heart Failure Include:3

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Heart valve disease
  • Cardiomyopathy (weak heart)
  • Congenital heart defects (heart defects present since birth)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart muscle diseases
  • Infection of the heart and/or heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle from heart attack


In its early stages, heart failure can often be managed with medicines and a healthy way of life. As heart failure gets worse and the heart becomes weaker, medicine becomes less effective. Other therapies may then be needed.4

How do You Know if You Have Heart Failure or Your Heart Failure is Getting Worse?

There are several important symptoms to watch for:5


Tiredness or fatigue

Tiredness or fatigue


Constant coughing

Constant coughing


Lightheadedness and confusion

Lightheadedness and confusion


Trouble breathing

Trouble breathing


Swelling

Swelling


Weight gain

Weight gain


Faster heart rate

Faster heart rate


Nausea or lack of appetite

Nausea or lack of appetite


Symptoms like these can limit your activities and way of life without you even realizing it. They may also mean your heart failure is getting worse.


Take our Heart Failure Quiz

It may help you describe to your doctor how heart failure is limiting your life.

Heart Failure Quiz

How Serious is Your Heart Failure?

New York Heart Association (NYHA) Classes of Heart Failure

Doctors use a four-stage Heart Failure Class System developed by the NYHA to define the seriousness of a person’s heart failure. As the disease and symptoms get worse, the heart failure class level changes from early-stage heart failure (Class I) to advanced heart failure (Class IV). The descriptions below, developed by the NYHA, show each stage and how the related symptoms affect quality of life.

NYHA Class I

Class I

No symptoms or limitations to physical activity.

NYHA Class II

Class II

Slight limitations to physical activity. Comfortable at rest. Ordinary physical activity results in feeling tired and short of breath.

NYHA Class III

Class III

Major limitations to physical activity. Less than ordinary activity results in feeling tired and short of breath.

NYHA Class IV

Class IV

Unable to carry on any physical activity without discomfort. Tired and short of breath even at rest.

It is important to understand that heart failure is a serious condition. It is also important to recognize if your symptoms are getting worse. If you have worsening symptoms your doctor may suggest advanced therapies to manage and treat your heart failure.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Heart Failure

  • What NYHA Class is my heart failure?
  • How is my heart failure likely to progress (or get worse)?
  • If my heart failure gets worse, what therapies and options are available besides medications?
  • What are the three most important things my family and I can do right now to manage my heart failure?

References

  1. What is heart failure? American Heart Association website. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heartfailure. Accessed March 1, 2021.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. 2019 Mortality [I50.0-I50.9 Heart Failure total mentions page 32 and 94]. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvs s/mortality_public_use_data.h tm
  3. Causes of heart failure. American Heart Association website. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/causes-and-risks-for-heart-failure/causes-of-heart-failure. Accessed March 1, 2021.
  4. AbouEzzeddine OF, Redfield MM. Who has advanced heart failure? Definition and epidemiology. Congest Heart Fail. 2011;17:1-18.
  5. Warning signs of heart failure. American Heart Association website. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/warning-signs-of-heart-failure. Accessed March 1, 2021.
  6. Classes of heart failure. American Heart Association website. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heart-failure/classes-of-heart-failure. Accessed March 1, 2021.
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