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Heart Failure Overview

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to meet the body’s needs. More than five million Americans are currently living with heart failure.

What are the most common symptoms of heart failure?

Typical symptoms of heart failure include difficulty breathing, worsening fatigue, and swelling in the legs or abdomen. Fluid collection in and around the lungs can cause shortness of breath (or dyspnea), especially during physical activity or when lying down. Other common symptoms of heart failure include loss of appetite and weight gain.

What causes heart failure?

Heart failure is most often caused by conditions and lifestyle habits that weaken the heart muscle, including:

  • Coronary artery disease (thickening and narrowing of the coronary arteries);
  • High blood pressure;
  • Congenital heart disease;
  • Heart attack;
  • Heart valve diseases;
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia);
  • Diabetes;
  • Infection;
  • Illness;
  • Genetic abnormalities;
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol intake/use.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Diagnosis of heart failure is achieved by compiling a comprehensive medical history, checking blood laboratories, and completing a thorough assessment of the heart muscle, including evaluation of its pumping action and thickness of its walls. This testing also helps to determine the underlying cause of heart failure. Diagnostic tests for heart failure may include:

How is heart failure treated?

Advanced treatment approaches are extending and improving quality-of-life for patients with heart failure. Heart failure is treated and managed through a combination of lifestyle modifications and a wide range of therapies, including medication and interventions, which help the heart to work more effectively and alleviate heart failure symptoms. Pacemakers and ventricular assist devices can make it easier for heart the heart to pump blood and remain in rhythm. For some patients with advanced heart failure, a heart transplant may be an option.

Center for Advanced Heart Failure/Cardiomyopathy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

The Center for Advanced Heart Failure/Cardiomyopathy, an integral part of the Heart & Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), brings together heart failure experts, including cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiovascular imaging specialists, congenital heart disease specialists, and many others, to care for patients as one team. Together, the team tailors therapies to each patient’s needs, offering the latest medical, interventional, and surgical approaches to congestive heart failure treatment.

Patient- and Family-centered Care

BWH has long been committed to not only the care of our patients but also the many other needs that they and their families have. This philosophy of patient- and family-focused care involves systems and services that emphasize healing in a comfortable, relaxed environment.

Quality of Patient Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is committed to providing all of our patients with the safest, highest-quality, most-satisfying care possible and follow established protocols that have been shown to improve patient outcomes. Our inpatient satisfaction survey, sent to patients’ to assess their total care experience, helps us to monitor what we are doing well and areas for improvement. We pride ourselves in the quality of patient care we provide and how we are measured compared with other hospitals.

Contact Us

If you believe you should have an evaluation and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, call 1-800-294-9999 to speak to one of our knowledgeable coordinators who can help to connect you to the doctor that best meets your needs, or fill out an online appointment request form.


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