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Heart failure

Inability of the heart to pump blood efficiently

Heart failure means your heart isn't able to work effectively due to weakness or damage caused by disease or injury


Despite its frightening name, heart failure doesn't mean your heart has stopped beating. Rather, it means your heart is weak or stiff, and so may struggle to pump enough blood around, particularly when you exert yourself. This leads to symptoms like breathlessness, ankle swelling and tiredness. It's more common in men than women, with people over the age of 75 being most at risk.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of heart failure icon plus

    Symptoms of heart failure can vary in severity depending on your age, general health and the cause of your heart failure. The most common symptom is breathlessness and general fatigue. You may also have swelling in your lower legs. If you have chronic heart failure, these symptoms may take several weeks to develop, while acute heart failure develops more suddenly. Other symptoms may include:

    • palpitations or feeling your heart is racing
    • dizziness
    • coughing or wheezing

    There are many different causes of heart failure. The most common are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, inherited (genetic) heart muscle problems and valve disease.

  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Your consultant will speak to you about your symptoms and any history of heart problems, such as a previous heart attack or longstanding high blood pressure. If they suspect you have heart failure, diagnostic tests may include:

    • an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of your heart
    • an echocardiogram to visualise the chambers of your heart
    • a chest X-ray to see if your heart is enlarged or if there are any related problems with your lungs

    If you're having difficulty breathing, you may also have additional tests to look at your lung function and capacity.

  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Heart failure is a long-term condition that is managed rather than cured. There are, however, a range of treatment options that can improve both your symptoms and prognosis. The condition is classed between stages one to four. Stage one heart failure generally means you don't have any noticeable symptoms, while stage four is the most severe form of heart failure. Treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and any underlying cause. Your GP or consultant will talk to you about your diagnosis and help to determine the best treatment option for you. Medication may help to manage your condition. Eating a balanced diet, reducing your fluid intake, eating less salt and regular exercise can also help to regulate heart failure.
Consultant in theatres

Our consultants

We're proud to work with leading experts across a range of medical fields, whose skills are matched by their integrity and compassion.

Our facilities

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

  • Wellington-south-hero-facility-582-582

    The Wellington Hospital

    Wellington Place

    London NW8 9LE

    Appointments 0207 483 5148
    Enquiries 020 3131 7478

  • London Bridge Hospital Facility

    London Bridge Hospital

    27 Tooley Street


    SE1 2PR

    Appointments and Enquiries 020 7234 2009
    Imaging Appointments 020 7234 2773
    Switchboard 020 7407 3100

  • facility-HSC-flag-hero-582x582

    The Harley Street Clinic

    35 Weymouth Street


    W1G 8BJ

    Appointments 020 7034 8181
    Enquiries 020 3131 7962

Request an appointment

We're happy to help you make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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