ACC ACC Heart Failure Center
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

(Click the question to see the answer.)

1. What Causes Heart Failure?
Despite the way it sounds, heart failure does not mean that the heart suddenly stopped working or that you are about to die. Rather, heart failure is a common condition that usually develops slowly as the heart muscle weakens and needs to work harder to keep blood flowing through the body. Heart failure develops following injury to the heart such as the damage caused by a heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, or an abnormality of one of the heart valves. The weakened heart must work harder to keep up with the demands of the body, which is why people with heart failure often complain of feeling tired.
2. What Are Some of the Symptoms of Heart Failure?
  • Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Weight gain with swelling in the legs and ankles from fluid retention
  • General fatigue and weakness
3. What Puts Me at Risk for Heart Failure?
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Damage to the heart valves or history of a heart murmur
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Family history of enlarged heart
  • Diabetes
4. How is Heart Failure Diagnosed?
Only your doctor can tell you if you have heart failure. When you visit your doctor, he/she should review your medical history and conduct a full physical examination. A number of tests may be completed when exploring a possible diagnosis of heart failure. Many of them are painless and simple. The most important of these tests is an echocardiogram, or "echo" for short. This test tells your doctor what your ejection fraction, or "EF," is. The ejection fraction is a measurement of how well your heart is pumping.
5. How Can I Learn to Live with Heart Failure?

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, there are many things that you can do to help yourself.

  • Limiting your intake of salt is very important and you should learn what prepared foods have large amounts of salt.
  • Weigh yourself each day and contact your healthcare provider if your weight changes significantly.
  • Exercising at levels recommended by your health care provider is of great importance in keeping you fit and well.
  • Taking your medications as prescribed is essential.
  • In addition, it is important for you to maintain frequent visits to your physician/Heart Failure Team and notify them if there are any changes in your symptoms.
  • Finally, it is essential that both you and your family understand what heart failure is, what the symptoms are, what you should do if your symptoms change and how your health care team will treat this disease.
6. How is Heart Failure Treated?
Early diagnosis and treatment are very important, and recently there have been some major steps forward in treatment. Today, Health Care Teams can do more than ever, so many people with heart failure can live normal lives and be less at risk for being hospitalized. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, there are a number of medications and other therapies that work together to improve your symptoms and help keep your heart failure from getting worse. Taking these medicines, in addition to eating right and getting regular exercise, help improve your health.
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