Chronic Heart Failure

What is chronic heart failure?

Chronic heart failure is an ongoing inability of the heart to pump enough blood through the body to ensure a sufficient oxygen supply. The causes are varied, but the risk factors include old age, diabetes, high blood pressure and being overweight. Chronic heart failure is more common in men. Symptoms result from the pooling of blood in the body and lungs, and include shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, chest pain, tiredness, cough and tiredness. It most commonly affects older people and people with other heart conditions, and it is mainly treated with medications. There is no cure for chronic heart failure, though symptoms can be managed.


Heart failure occurs when the muscle no longer pumps enough blood around the body to supply oxygen as needed. This may be due to a disease of the heart muscle (such as after a heart attack or inflammation of the heart muscle), abnormal heart rhythms, leaky heart valves, high blood pressure, anemia (not enough blood cells) or kidney problems. Chronic heart failure is more common in older people, and in people who have other heart conditions.


Chronic heart failure leads to difficulty performing everyday tasks due to breathlessness and tiredness. The heart may have problems circulating blood through the body, causing pooling of fluid and swelling of the feet, legs and abdomen. The heart may pound or beat irregularly. Other symptoms include cough, wheezing, breathlessness which is felt when lying flat or with mild activity, blue lips or fingers, fluid retention and tiredness.


Diagnosis is usually made based on medical history and after a physical examination. The most reliable method to diagnose heart failure is an ultrasound of the heart (called an echocardiogram or a ECHO scan), which allows doctors to see how the heart is moving and pumping. X-rays of the chest can show if the heart as become enlarged and if there is fluid collecting on the lungs. An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and blood tests may also be helpful in diagnosing heart failure.


Treatment includes medication to manage blood pressure, heart rate and the amount of fluid in the body. People with heart failure may be advised by their doctor to reduce the amount of fluid that they drink in a day. Exercise routines may be recommended to keep the heart in good condition. If the heart develops an irregular rhythm, a pacemaker may help to keep the heart beating normally and improve the circulation of blood.


Prevention of heart failure is based on avoiding or treating any underlying disease and addressing risk factors. Keeping good control of blood pressure and body fluid levels can help to prevent sudden worsening of heart function. Regular gentle exercise helps to keep the heart muscle in good condition. People with chronic heart failure should give up smoking and lose weight to help improve their symptoms.

Other names for chronic heart failure

  • Cardiac failure
  • Chronic congestive heart failure
  • Congestive heart failure