Heart Failure

Heart Failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes weak and is no longer able to pump blood effectively throughout the body and back to the heart.

In some cases, Heart Failure affects only one side of the heart, but more commonly it affects the left and right sides, a condition referred to as congestive Heart Failure.

While it may not sound like it, Heart Failure is not usually an immediately life-threatening disease. The good news is that treatment – a combination of medication and sensible self-help – can keep it under control.

Get the facts on Heart Failure

Is Heart Failure common?

Heart Failure is an amazingly common condition. The Australian Heart Foundation estimates that at any one time over 330,000 Australians suffer from the condition, which like many diseases of the heart, is more likely to develop as you get older. While it may not sound like it, Heart Failure is not usually an immediately life-threatening disease.

Heart Failure falls into four generally accepted stages:

Stage A:

Patients are identified as being at high Risk for developing Heart Failure in the future but no functional or structural heart disorder is apparent.

Stage C:

Previous or current symptoms of Heart Failure are experienced in the context of an underlying structural heart problem, but these are managed with medical treatment.

Stage B:

A structural heart disorder is identified but symptoms have not been displayed.

Stage D:

Heart Failure has advanced to a condition requiring hospital-based support, a heart transplant or palliative care.

The good news is that treatment, a combination of medication and sensible self-help, can keep it under control. After that the only danger is the underlying cause – mainly Coronary Heart Disease.


The main causes of Heart Failure are Coronary Heart Disease, a previous Heart Attack, long-term High Blood Pressure, diabetes and disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).

Other causes, which are less common, include diseases of the heart valve, problems with the thyroid, excessive alcohol intake and heart conditions you were born with (congenital).

Working out the cause of your Heart Failure – through blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram – is important, as this will hold the key to managing your symptoms.


Because the blood isn’t moving through the body, it builds up behind the heart as fluid, which can pool in the lungs and body tissues – a process called oedema.

When this happens, you may feel short of breath, particularly if you’ve been exercising. Tiredness, feeling nauseous or lethargic, and swelling in the lower legs and abdomen are other symptoms of Heart Failure.

3 avenues of treatment

Medication and lifestyle changes are the keys to successful treatment and an active, enjoyable life, but in some cases, surgical procedures are also required.


To strengthen your heart, your doctor may prescribe digoxin or vasodilators such as ACE inhibitors, which dilate, or open up the blood vessels. To reduce the build up of fluid in the body and the load on your heart, you may also need to take diuretics (fluid tablets).


Taking control of lifestyle is an important part of living a normal life with Heart Failure. In addition to following HeartSmart’s ten tips, people with Heart Failure are usually required to:

  • Reduce the salt in their diet, as it makes the body retain fluid.
  • Drink less than one and a half litres of fluid a day - another way to maintain a fluid balance and reduce the build up of oedema.
  • Have no more than two cups of caffeinated drinks per day.
  • Rule out, or drink only very small amounts of alcohol.


Surgical proceduresIf Arrhythmia is underlying the Heart Failure, those patients may need a small device implanted to manage their condition: either an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) or an artificial heart pacemaker. Where Heart Failure is severe, a major procedure such as a heart transplant may be required.

Can I prevent Heart Failure

Heart Failure generally develops over several years, so taking steps now to improve your heart health is essential. Know your Risk factors, manage them, and follow this quick guide to improved cardiovascular health. Importantly, if you have any concerns about your heart, particularly if you have a family history of heart disease, don’t delay – talk to your doctor

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Don't Smoke

If you smoke, there has never been a better time to quit. Nicotine replacement patches or prescription medications are effective in reducing the cravings.

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Check Your Cholesterol Levels Regularly

Do you know your cholesterol levels? Most people don't. Information is key, so knowing where you stand is the first step in keeping track and maintaining your heart health. You can order a Blood Pathology Request through HeartSmart.me. Results are mailed directly to you and you can track your results using the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.

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Take Supplements Daily

Supplements are a great way to make sure you're getting your daily requirement of heart healthy nutrients. Supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil, Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10 can be very beneficial to your heart health.

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Keep Your Blood Sugar In Range

If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s direction and keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. Even if you don't have diabetes, stick to a low GI (Glycaemic Index) diet. You won’t be hungry and your blood sugar levels will be stable.

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Check Your Blood Pressure Regularly

Order a HeartSmart.me blood pressure monitor and keep track of your blood pressure weekly. You can record your results in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me. Aim to keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone - below 140/90mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently high see your doctor.

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Be Active

Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least 2 hours in total per week. Even better, if you can get 4 hours of sweaty activity per week, you'll help lower your Risk of cancer too.

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Watch Your Waistline

Get your waist measurement to your 'low risk' zone. Men should keep it below 95cm and women should be below 80cm. Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25. You can track your progress in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.

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Seek Happiness

Happiness is good for the heart. Just as negative emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, studies show that happiness seems to protect the heart.