Hertfordshire Community Health Services

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What does Heart Failure Mean?

Heart failure is a serious condition, but it does not actually mean that your heart has failed. It means that your heart is not pumping blood around your body very efficiently.

Heart failure can affect the left side of your heart, the right side, or both. The symptoms and effects on your body will depend on the side that is affected. The Community Heart Failure Service only treats patients with left sided heart failure.

Symptoms of heart failure can be severe. It can be treated though, allowing you to control the effects of the condition and continue to live a normal life.

Heart failure can be caused by a number of other conditions, such as high blood pressure or a heart attack. It tends to affect people over the age of 65, and is more common in men than women.

Symptoms of heart failure
The main symptom of heart failure is extreme tiredness and breathlessness on exertion. This happens because of a lack of blood getting from your heart to your muscles.

The other symptoms of heart failure tend to differ depending upon which side of your heart has been affected.

Heart failure on the left
Heart failure on the left side can make you breathless because of a fluid build up on your lungs. This can happen at any time but often happens when you are active or laying in bed. During the night you may feel the need to sit up in bed. The breathlessness can also be accompanied by a cough and a frothy spit.

Heart failure on the right
The main symptom of heart failure on the right side is swollen ankles and legs because of excess fluid building up in the legs.

The liver and stomach can also become enlarged, due to excess fluid, making you feel bloated.

Heart failure on either or both sides
Other symptoms of heart failure (on either side of the heart) can include:

  • dizziness
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • confusion.

There are many ways that you can reduce your chances of heart failure:

  • avoid smoking
  • avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • take regular exercise
  • eat a healthy diet (low in saturated fats and salt, because salt assists fluid retention)
  • get immunised against flu and pneumococcal infections if you are in an at risk group.

These measures can help to reduce the strain on your heart by avoiding risk factors such as obesity and blood pressure problems, and by making sure the heart muscle is healthy.

Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, Unit 1a Howard Court, 14 Tewin Road, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL7 1BW, T. 01707 388000 F. 01707 321840