Information about heart failure — causes and treatment

Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes weak and cannot pump enough blood to the body. Without sufficient blood flow, all major body functions are disrupted.

There are two types of heart failure:

  1. Systolic — occurs when the heart can't pump with enough power to push blood into your bloodstream (arteries).
  2. Diastolic — occurs when the heart isn’t able to fill with blood between heartbeats.


Heart failure means the heart isn’t able to pump blood effectively.

Common symptoms of heart failure include:

  • feeling short of breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • extreme tiredness
  • swollen legs
  • persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
  • lack of appetite and nausea.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if you are experiencing the following:

  • chest pain
  • fainting or severe weakness
  • irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • severe shortness of breath.

Heart failure may result from any of the following:

  • coronary artery disease
  • heart valve disease
  • previous heart attack
  • high blood pressure
  • cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
  • irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias)
  • pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs)
  • complications of diabetes
  • certain medication

Heart failure diagnosis includes physical examinations and diagnostic procedures such as:

  • chest X-ray
  • echocardiogram
  • electrocardiogram (ECG).

Heart failure treatment depends on the severity of the disease. In some cases, lifestyle changes or medications may be all that’s needed. In other cases, a defibrillator, pacemaker or other type of surgery may be recommended.

Things that put you at greater risk of suffering heart failure include:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart attack
  • coronary artery disease
  • diabetes
  • sleep apnoea
  • valvular heart disease
  • viruses
  • alcohol use
  • smoking
  • obesity.
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Last updated: 29 Oct 2021