What is heart failure?
Heart failure is the term used to describe the symptoms and signs which occur if the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood around the body, either while you are resting or exercising.
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Heart failure may be the result of damage to the heart muscle. The damage is most commonly caused by a heart attack, but sometimes it may be caused by excessive alcohol consumption or a virus infection. This may be referred to as 'cardiomyopathy.' Cardiomyopathy is a condition of the heart muscle where the cause is often not known. Heart failure can also result from conditions which put an extra workload on the heart. The heart may have coped with this increased workload for many years before heart failure occurs. Problems which can cause an increased workload include: high blood pressure (hypertension) anaemia, heart valves that either leak or are too narrow, thyroid gland disease, or an excessively fast or slow heart rate.
The main symptoms of heart failure are severe tiredness and breathlessness. You may also experience swollen ankles and feet. These signs and symptoms may happen suddenly i.e. after a heart attack, or more slowly over a period of weeks or months. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, feeling sick, constipation, coughing, poor memory, dizziness and a disrupted sleep pattern. It is important to note that many of these symptoms are not always caused by heart failure. For example, many smokers experience breathlessness and it is quite normal to be out of breath when you are being physically active, especially if you are unfit.