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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.

Overview

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....Read more about Heart Failure
NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

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.

There is not enough evidence to determine if anticoagulants safely prevent blood clots in patients with chronic heart failure who are in normal heart rhythm

Blood clots (thromboembolism) in the lungs, legs and brain (ischaemic stroke) contribute to disability and the death of patients with heart failure. Although anticoagulants such as warfarin are of proven benefit in patients in certain subgroups of patients with heart failure, such as those with atrial fibrillation, there is little evidence that warfarin works well in the wider heart failure population. There may also be serious side effects such as bleeding (causing ulcers and haemorrhagic stroke). At present there are no data to recommend the routine use of anticoagulants to prevent thromboembolism in patients with heart failure who are in normal heart rhythm.

Psychological interventions for depression in heart failure

It is not known whether psychological interventions for people with heart failure reduce symptoms of depression and improve outcome. Occasionally adults with heart failure suffer from depression. Psychological interventions, such as cognitive‐behavioural therapy and other types of counseling or supportive therapy, have been tried in order to reduce depression. Unfortunately, this review found no randomised trials of psychological interventions aimed at reducing depression in heart failure patients. Less carefully conducted studies, however, suggest that small reductions in the symptoms of depression and improvements in exercise capacity might result from psychological interventions.

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Summaries for consumers

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.

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.

There is not enough evidence to determine if anticoagulants safely prevent blood clots in patients with chronic heart failure who are in normal heart rhythm

Blood clots (thromboembolism) in the lungs, legs and brain (ischaemic stroke) contribute to disability and the death of patients with heart failure. Although anticoagulants such as warfarin are of proven benefit in patients in certain subgroups of patients with heart failure, such as those with atrial fibrillation, there is little evidence that warfarin works well in the wider heart failure population. There may also be serious side effects such as bleeding (causing ulcers and haemorrhagic stroke). At present there are no data to recommend the routine use of anticoagulants to prevent thromboembolism in patients with heart failure who are in normal heart rhythm.

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More about Heart Failure

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

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