Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Usually, this is because your heart muscle is too weak to “squeeze” out enough blood with each beat. But heart failure can also happen when your heart gets stiff and can’t fill up with enough blood between each beat.

Heart failure is found most often in older people, but it can happen to anyone at any age. It’s a serious condition — and also quite common. Many people with heart failure continue to have a full and active life for many years after their diagnosis.

With heart failure, initial damage weakens the heart muscle. To compensate, your heart beats faster and enlarges (stretches or thickens) as shown in the image below. Over time, the heart muscle begins to wear out.



Symptoms of heart failure vary based on the type of heart failure you have. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Feeling very tired and weak
  • Weight gain (from fluid buildup)
  • Swollen ankles, feet, belly, lower back, and fingers
  • Puffiness or swelling around the eyes
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering

The main cause of heart failure (heart muscle damage and weakness) cannot be cured, but symptoms can be managed. Good treatment and self-care can help keep your symptoms from getting worse.


Heart failure can be caused by anything that damages and weakens the heart muscle. But for 4 out of every 10 people, there is no known cause. Smoking, kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea are all causes of heart failure. Here's more information about the most common known causes of heart muscle damage:

  • Atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease): Atherosclerosis is when the arteries that supply your heart with blood become narrowed by fatty plaque buildup. This restricts the amount of oxygen your heart gets and weakens the muscle. It can also cause a heart attack, which can damage your heart even more.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension): Poorly controlled blood pressure makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Over time, this extra work can wear out your heart and lead to heart failure.
  • Heart valve problems: Heart valves control the one-way flow of blood through your heart. If valves are damaged or abnormal, your heart has to work harder to move blood throughout your body.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse: Long-term use and abuse of alcohol or drugs can severely weaken your heart

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.