Heart failure is the inability of your heart muscle to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs for oxygen and nutrients. The condition can be chronic and develop slowly over time, or it can be acute, meaning it starts suddenly.
When heart failure develops gradually, it can at first be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of early-stage heart failure in adults are also symptoms of many other medical conditions. Patients may feel more fatigued and out of breath, unable to do as much as before, and they may associate symptoms with aging. For patients with acute heart failure requiring immediate hospitalization, the diagnosis happens rapidly. For more information, visit Symptoms of Heart Failure in Adults.
Heart failure in children is most often caused by heart defects that are present at birth: congenital heart disease. In babies, heart failure causes a “failure to thrive.” The baby’s current weight or rate of weight gain is significantly lower than that of normally developing children. In older children, an inability to tolerate exercise is a common symptom of heart failure. For more information, visit Symptoms of Heart Failure in Children.
If you experience chest pain or fainting—or have shortness of breath with chest pain, fainting or coughing with pink blood-tinged mucus—immediately seek emergency medical treatment.
Getting Help for Heart Failure
If you or your child has been diagnosed with heart failure, treatment options are available. Most often, there is no cure for the condition, but it can often be managed and allow for a good quality of life through lifestyle changes, medications and invasive interventions.
When you talk with your heart failure team, Questions to Ask Your Care Providers About Heart Failure can help guide your conversation. Additionally, Resources Related to Heart Failure can help you find a support network and more information.
If you or a loved one is having heart failure symptoms, the next stage will be diagnosis. A heart failure diagnosis will be made (or ruled out) based on your personal and family medical history, a physical exam and tests. To learn more, visit Diagnosing Heart Failure.