Heart failure

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What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be. When your heart is damaged and isn’t pumping properly it can become bigger, weaker, or stiffer. This change in the way your heart is pumping causes extra fluid to build up in your body and sometimes in your lungs.

Lots of things can cause damage to your heart, including:

  • heart attack
  • high blood pressure
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • a problem with your heart valves
  • something you are born with
  • infection
  • some medicines (e.g. cancer therapies) and drugs (e.g. cocaine or amphetamines)
  • pregnancy
  • abnormal heart rhythm

Heart failure is a serious problem and help from your nurse, doctor or health worker is important. Work with them to help improve your heart and health. You can’t always make the heart strong like it used to be but you can help the heart to work better. This will make it easier to do things that are important to you.

Symptoms of heart failure

Heart failure causes extra fluid to build up in your body and you may feel very weak and tired. 

Other symptoms of heart failure can include:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • swollen ankles or legs
  • a bloated stomach
  • pain in the chest
  • a fast or racing heart beat (palpitations)
  • feeling dizzy
  • coughing
  • loss of appetite (not hungry).

When you have heart failure you could also feel sad or worried about being sick and not being able to do the things you usually do.  Talk to someone about how you are feeling.  Don’t keep it to yourself. Your doctor, nurse or health worker can help you feel better or get you the help you need.

Diagnosis and tests

Your doctor may order some of these tests to diagnose heart failure:

  • echocardiogram
  • electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • coronary angiogram
  • chest X-ray
  • blood tests

Read more about common medical tests

Learn about heart failure treatments

Information on treatment and what to do when you feel sick.

Download a heart failure booklet

Get useful information to help make you feel better.

Call the Heart Foundation Helpline

Speak to a qualified health professional.

Learn more