A heart

Heart Failure

Also known as congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure—often referred to as heart failure—is the term used to describe what happens when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart failure should not be confused with cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating entirely. Instead, heart failure is the inadequate functioning of the heart muscle.

The condition can either be acute, meaning it occurs rapidly and generally on a short-term basis, or chronic, which means it occurs over the long term.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of congestive heart failure?

    The symptoms of heart failure can vary depending on the location of heart damage, which may occur on the heart’s ride side (right-sided heart failure), left side (left-sided heart failure), or both (biventricular failure). Symptoms for each differ somewhat, but those common to all three conditions include fatigue, dizziness, swelling in the legs, and shortness of breath, especially with exercise.

  • What causes congestive heart failure?

    In heart failure, the strain put on heart muscles over a long period of time hampers efficient blood flow to the point that fluid builds up in the heart and lungs and, eventually, in the extremities. Heart failure may be caused by cardiovascular conditions that weaken the heart, such as heart attack, coronary artery disease, or hypertension, as well as by other diseases and conditions.

  • How is heart failure diagnosed?

    Heart failure is usually diagnosed with an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart that shows heart function. Measuring brain natriuretic peptide, or BNP, has also gained attention in recent decades because it can be performed using a blood test. Both tests, along with symptoms, may be used to establish or rule out a diagnosis of heart failure.

  • How long can you live with congestive heart failure?

    With appropriate lifestyle changes and medical treatment, you can live with congestive heart failure for many years. Adopting a heart-healthy diet and increasing physical activity are examples of lifestyle changes that will improve your heart and health. However, if left untreated, heart failure can cause blood to build up in the body, leading to swelling (edema) in the legs and lungs and, eventually, organ failure.

  • What are the four stages of congestive heart failure?

    The New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification identifies four stages of congestive heart failure, based on the level of symptoms. Class I indicates no limits on physical activity due to symptoms. Those with Class IV heart failure have no ability to be active, with symptoms of heart failure at rest.

Key Terms
Nurse checking blood pressure of female patient in clinic - stock photo
Vasotec (Enalapril): Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
mom and baby listening to each other's heartbeat
Is Congestive Heart Failure Hereditary?
nurse listening to a woman's heartbeat
Congestive Heart Failure: Life Expectancy and Prognosis
stethoscope and white pill capsules
Digoxin: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
Taking blood pressure at home
Accupril (Quinapril): Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
African nurse using stethoscope on hospital patient - stock photo
CHF: Medical Abbreviation for Congestive Heart Failure
Anatomy of Human Heart with red bloodcells - stock photo
Endocardium: Definition, Location, and Function
Nice hospital phlebotomist taking a sample from a patient
Hypokalemia: Overview and More
oxycodone and alcohol
The Risks of Combining Oxycodone and Alcohol
Healthcare provider taking blood pressure
Inspra (Eplerenone) Side Effects and Risks
Man enjoys walking for congestive heart failure
Is Walking Good for Congestive Heart Failure Patients?
indapamide
Indapamide: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
Man checks blood pressure and prepares to take medications
Inspra (Eplerenone) Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
eplerenone
Inspra (eplerenone): Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Doctor checks man for congestive heart failure
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): Definition, Causes, Types, and Classification
Bumetanide
Bumetanide: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
Quinapril Drug Molecule
Accupril (Quinapril) Side Effects
Male cardiologist discusses diagnosis with patient
Left-Sided Heart Failure: Overview and More
Male doctor examining patient in hospital gown
Thoracentesis: Uses, Procedure, Complications, Results
The ands of an older adult
Symptoms and Complications of Heart Failure
Consultation in cardiology
Heart Failure: Causes and Risk Factors
Doctor and nurse with patient on stretcher
How Heart Failure Is Diagnosed
Doctor talking to patient about heart failure
How Heart Failure Is Treated
Senior couple running in park
Heart Failure: Coping, Support, and Living Well
This could be a heart attack
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): Overview and More
Man looking at a prescription pill bottle
Carvedilol: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
Doctor talking to patient about heart failure
How ACE Inhibitors Effectively Treat Heart Failure
Human heart
Right-Sided Heart Failure: Overview and More
doctor and patient
What Is Cardiac Amyloidosis?
woman having trouble sleeping
The Link Between Insomnia and Heart Failure
senior man breathing
Bendopnea: Overview and More
Mature couple cycling
How Aerobic Exercise Fights Stiff Heart
sick patient
Left Ventricular Assist Device - LVAD
Older woman coughing into her hand
How Diastolic Dysfunction is Diagnosed
woman in hospital with comforting husband
An Overview of Diastolic Dysfunction and Heart Failure
Doctor explaining model to patient in examination room
Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy for Heart Failure
Heart model in someone's hand
The Significance of Cardiac Remodeling
Doctor explaining to patient
Entresto: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Precautions
Man sleeping in a hospital bed
Dilated Cardiomyopathy Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Black woman doctor talking to patient in hospital
Treating Heart Failure Due to Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Mature overweight man sitting in armchair
Treating Diastolic Dysfunction and Heart Failure
Doctor conducting medical exam
Common Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy
heart chamber and valves
Ejection Fraction: Significance, Interpreting Results
Couple walking holding hands
Preventing Heart Failure After Heart Attack
Man sitting on edge of bed
Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea: Overview and More
Patient
Orthopnea: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Couple sitting at table outside
Effective Caregiving for a Loved One With Heart Failure
close up of a variety of pills
The Drugs That Can Make Heart Failure Worse
Senior woman coughing at the doctor
Coughing and Heart Failure: Cardiac Cough Explained
Senior woman exercising
Preventing Congestive Heart Failure With Lifestyle
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association, Classes Of Heart Failure.

Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Myocardial biopsy. MedlinePlus. Updated January 5, 2021.