Heart failure is a condition in which the heart does not pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body’s tissues. Heart failure can develop slowly over time as the result of other conditions (such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease) that weaken the heart. It can also occur suddenly as the result of damage to the heart muscle.
Common signs and symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or cough
- Fluid retention and weight gain
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormally fast or slow heart rate
Treatment for heart failure depends on its severity. Patients with very weakened hearts may need surgery or implanted devices, such as pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillators. All patients need to make lifestyle changes, including restricting sodium (salt) in their diets.
Doctors usually treat heart failure, and the underlying conditions that cause it, with a combination of medications. These medications include:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Beta blockers
- Aldosterone blockers
- Hydralazine or nitrates
Other medications that may be helpful include:
- Aspirin and warfarin
Review Date: 05/04/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.