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Heart Failure

A chronic condition in which the heart cannot pump blood properly.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. In some cases, the heart can't fill with enough blood. In other cases, the heart can't pump blood to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people have both problems.

The term "heart failure" doesn't mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. However, heart failure is a serious condition that requires medical care.


Heart failure develops over time as the heart's pumping action grows weaker. The condition can affect the right side of the heart only, or it can affect both sides of the heart. Most cases involve both sides of the heart.

Right-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Left-side heart failure occurs if the heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

Right-side heart failure... Read more about Heart Failure

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Acute Heart Failure: Diagnosing and Managing Acute Heart Failure in Adults

The need for this guideline was identified as the NICE guidelines on chronic heart failure were being updated. We recognised at this time that there were important aspects of the diagnosis and management of acute heart failure that were not being addressed by the chronic heart failure guideline, which focussed on long term management rather than the immediate care of someone who is acutely unwell as a result of heart failure. The aim of this guideline is to provide guidance to the NHS on the diagnosis and management of acute heart failure.

Crataegus berries: heart complaints, congestive heart failure NYHA I and II. A systematic review

Bibliographic details: Melzer J, Iten E, Saller R.  Crataegus berries: heart complaints, congestive heart failure NYHA I and II. A systematic review. Perfusion 2003; 16(10): 358-362

Systematic guideline search and appraisal, as well as extraction of new and relevant recommendations, for the DMP module “Heart failure”: Executive summary of final report V09-06, Version 1.0

The aim of this study was to identify a potential need for updating and supplementation of the existing DMP module HF by means of a systematic search for new evidence-based guidelines relevant to the subject and by the synthesis of the guideline recommendations.

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Summaries for consumers

Heart failure: Do exercise programs help people stay fit?

Many people with heart failure avoid strenuous activities. For some people, though, the opposite would be a good idea: Specialized, targeted exercise programs can help to increase their physical fitness and quality of life.

Heart failure: Overview

Lots of people with heart failure avoid physical exercise to prevent breathlessness and heavy breathing. But exercise has been shown to be good for heart failure in the long term: Studies show that special cardio training programs can imrpove fitness and quality of life.

Interventions for treating pregnant women or new mothers with heart failure of unknown cause (peripartum cardiomyopathy)

Very rarely, some women suffer from heart failure (without any known cause) in late pregnancy or as a new mother. The heart muscle becomes large and weakened, and is unable to pump blood properly round the body. This affects the lungs, liver, and other body systems. Symptoms include: difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, the heart racing or skipping beats. There can also be chest pain, swelling, and excessive weight gain during the last month of pregnancy. Women need to be cared for in intensive care wards. Labour is often medically induced earlier than normal if the problem arises late in pregnancy. These babies then suffer the problems of being born too early (prematurely). This review looked at interventions which might reduce harm for women with this condition The interventions included drugs, heart or blood monitoring, supportive therapies and heart transplants. We found only one pilot study, involving 20 women with heart failure after giving birth, that looked at bromocriptine given over a period of eight weeks. There were not enough data to provide a clear answer on the number of mothers dying, but the drug looked promising. Biochemical measurements were also made. Women need to be informed that the drug stops the production of breastmilk, making breastfeeding impossible. We found no trials on other possible interventions. Large trials are needed to decide the best treatment for these women and their babies.

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More about Heart Failure

Photo of an adult

Also called: Cardiac failure, Cardiac insufficiency, Weak heart, Congestive heart failure, HF

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