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Congestive Heart Failure (Heart Failure)

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure is almost always a chronic long-term condition, although it can sometimes develop suddenly. The condition may affect the right side, the left side or both sides of the heart.

As the heart's pumping action is lost, blood may back up in other areas of the body, producing congestion in the lungs, the liver, the gastrointestinal tract, and the arms and legs. As a result, there is a lack of oxygen and nutrition to organs, which damages them and reduces their ability to work properly.

One common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Heart failure can also occur when an illness or toxin weakens the heart muscle or changes the heart muscle structure. Such events are called cardiomyopathies.

Other heart problems that may cause heart failure include heart attack, congenital heart disease, heart valve disease or arrhythmias. Diseases such as emphysema, severe anemia, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism may cause or contribute to heart failure.


  • Shortness of breath with activity or after lying down for a while
  • Cough
  • Swelling of feet and ankles
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular or rapid pulse
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue, weakness, faintness
  • Loss of appetite, indigestion

A health care provider should be consluted if weakness, increased cough or sputum production, sudden weight gain or swelling, or other new or unexplained symptoms develop. Call 911 in the event of severe crushing chest pain, fainting or a rapid and irregular heartbeat.


Heart-failure patients should be closely monitored and should have follow-up appointments at least every three to six months to check heart function. They will also need to carefully monitor themselves and help manage their condition. One important way to do this is to track their weight on a daily basis. Rapid weight gain can be a sign that they are retaining fluid and that their heart failure is worsening. They should weigh themselves at the same time each day and on the same scale, with little or no clothes on.

It is also important to take medications as directed, limit salt intake, refrain from smoking and stay active. Patients should not exercise on days that their weight has increased as a result fluid retention or they are not feeling well.

Valve replacements or repair, coronary bypass surgery and angioplasty may help some people with heart failure.

Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.