Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Failure

About Heart Failure

Heart failure happens when the heart is not able to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body effectively. As your heart works harder, it may become enlarged to keep up with the demand to pump more blood — causing shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling, and other symptoms.

Any condition that damages or weakens the heart can cause heart failure. Examples include coronary artery disease (heart attacks), high blood pressure, heart valve disease, toxins including alcohol, viral infections (myocarditis), pulmonary hypertension, congenital heart disease and genetic diseases (cardiomyopathy). Chronic diseases or conditions such as diabetes, HIV infection, hyperthyroidism, amyloidosis, sleep apnea, and obesity may also raise the risk of heart failure, as well as tobacco use.

  • Heart failure is more common in people age 65 and older, due to the effects of aging on heart muscle as well as the influence of other chronic diseases.
  • Black individuals, are more likely to have heart failure than people of other races due to an increased incidence of cardiovascular risk factors.
  • People who are overweight are more likely to develop heart failure due to associated risk factors as well as increased strain on the heart.

Yes, especially in its earliest stages.  It is possible to have heart failure without symptoms for many years.

Not always. The earliest stages of heart failure may impair the heart's pumping ability but not cause any symptoms.

There are four stages of heart failure:

  • Stage A — risk factors for heart failure but no symptoms
  • Stage B — heart muscle damage has occurred but there are no symptoms
  • Stage C — symptoms of heart failure begin
  • Stage D — advanced heart failure

There are also four classes of heart failure symptoms:

  • Class I — ordinary physical activity does not cause symptoms
  • Class II — ordinary physical activity causes symptoms (fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath)
  • Class III — less than ordinary activity causes symptoms
  • Class IV — discomfort with any physical activity

You should call a doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they are not going away:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling tired
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Fast heart rate

Call us today to make an appointment with a heart failure specialist.

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms, perform a physical examination, and order tests such as blood tests, chest x-rays, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, stress test, and/or cardiac MRI.

Click here for more information about diagnosis & treatment.

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NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center ‒ Milstein Family Heart Center

Heart Failure & Transplantation Program

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center ‒ Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute

Heart Failure Program

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