Heart failure means that the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly. It usually occurs because the heart has become too weak or stiff.

It's sometimes called "congestive" heart failure, although this name isn't widely used nowadays.

Heart failure doesn't mean your heart has stopped working it just needs some support to help it work better. It can occur at any age, but is most common in older people.

Heart failure is along-term condition that tends to get gradually worse over time. It can't usually be cured, but the symptoms can often be controlled for many years.

This page covers:


When to get medical advice




Symptomsof heart failure

The main symptoms of heart failure are:

  • breathlessnessafter activity or at rest
  • feeling tired most of the time and finding exercise exhausting
  • swollen ankles and legs

Some people also experience other symptoms, such as a persistent cough, a fast heart rate, and dizziness.

Symptoms can develop quickly (acute heart failure) or gradually over weeks or months(chronic heart failure).

Whento get medical advice

See your GP if you experience persistent or gradually worsening symptoms of heart failure.

Call 999 for an ambulance or go toyour nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible if you have sudden or very severe symptoms.

A number of tests can be used to help check how well your heart is working,including blood tests, anelectrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram.

For example, if your heart valves are damaged, replacing or repairingthem maycure the condition.

It can severely limit the activities you're able to do and is often eventually fatal.

Butit'svery difficultto predict how the condition will progress on an individual basis. It's very unpredictablemany peopleremainstable for many years, whilein some cases itmay getworse quickly.

Overall, around half of people with heart failure live at least five years after their diagnosis.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 4 Jan 2017