Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyHeartDiseaseTeam

What is Heart Failure? Myth vs. Fact

Posted on October 30, 2019

KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Heart failure is a serious – but manageable – chronic health condition.
  • The terms heart failure (HF) and congestive heart failure (CHF) are often used interchangeably, but CHF is a specific type of heart failure.
  • If you have heart failure, there are many steps you can take each day to improve your wellbeing.

Of all the scary-sounding medical terms out there, heart failure may be one of the scariest – and the most misunderstood. Heart failure (HF) is a serious chronic condition that impacts at least 26 million people globally.1 In the United States, HF affects 2.2 percent of adults over age 20. Heart failure is becoming an increasingly common condition in the United States as the population ages.

If you have heart disease, you are at an increased risk for heart failure.2

There are a lot of misperceptions about heart failure. We’ve tackled a few of the most common myths to help you separate fact from fiction and understand the steps you can take to support
your heart health and improve your quality of life.

MYTH: Heart failure means your heart has stopped beating.

Heart failure is a confusing name – when you hear it, you may think it means the heart has completely stopped functioning, or will stop at any moment. You may equate heart failure with end of life. Heart failure is different from a heart attack, also called myocardial infarction or MI. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is cut off or severely reduced.3

In reality, heart failure means the heart is still pumping, but the amount of blood it can pump cannot meet the body’s needs.2 HF is a serious condition, but it can be managed with treatment and lifestyle changes. About half of people diagnosed with heart failure are still living five years after diagnosis.4

What Causes Heart Failure?
Many types of heart disease can lead to heart failure.5 Heart failure can be caused by any damage to the heart that makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.6 In heart failure, the heart tries to make up for this damage by growing in size, increasing muscle mass, and pumping faster. Your blood vessels may also narrow, and your body may pump less blood to some organs to compensate when the heart pumps less efficiently. The body’s coping mechanisms work temporarily and may mask the problem for a period of time.7

Any risk factors that encourage heart disease can also raise the risk for developing heart failure.8

Types of Heart Failure
There are different types of heart failure, categorized by the way in which the heart is malfunctioning. The various types of HF can cause different symptoms and require different treatments.

Congestive heart failure

You may have heard the terms heart failure and congestive heart failure (CHF) used to mean the same thing. They are often used interchangeably, but congestive heart failure is a particular type of heart failure. In CHF, blood gets backed up in the veins and frequently causes swelling in the legs and ankles.9

Left-sided heart failure

The left ventricle of the heart is responsible for the bulk of the heart’s pumping function. Left-sided HF means the heart isn’t able to adequately pump blood throughout the body.9 Left-sided HF can cause fluid build-up in the lungs and shortness of breath.2

Systolic heart failure or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction

This type of left-sided heart failure occurs when the left ventricle can’t contract properly. The damage to the left ventricle means the heart can’t circulate enough blood throughout the body.9 Ejection fraction describes how well the left ventricle pumps blood.8

Diastolic heart failure or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction

Diastolic HF occurs when the left ventricle isn’t able to relax correctly. This means the heart isn’t able to fill with blood at normal levels.9

Right-sided heart failure

The right ventricle is responsible for getting fresh oxygen to the blood. Damage to the right side of the heart is often a result of problems with the left side of the heart. Right-sided HF can lead to swelling in the legs and abdomen.9

MYTH: There's nothing I can do if I'm diagnosed with heart failure.

You may feel hopeless after learning that you have heart failure. While heart failure is a serious chronic condition, it can be managed with treatment and lifestyle changes. Treatment and lifestyle changes can slow the progression of HF, reduce symptoms, and in the early stages, may even reverse HF.10

The primary treatments for heart failure are medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery in more severe cases. Your doctor may prescribe more than one medication and will likely counsel you on important lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in your prognosis. It’s important that you take your medications exactly as your healthcare provider instructs.

You are not powerless in the face of heart failure. No matter what treatment your doctor recommends, you can adopt lifestyle habits to support your wellbeing. It may seem like a lot at first, but even small steps can make a difference. Important lifestyle changes include eating a low-sodium diet, controlling your weight, exercising, and quitting smoking.11-14 Seeking support from friends, family, and others living with heart failure can help you stick to your lifestyle changes. Your teammates at MyHeartDiseaseTeam are always available to answer questions about their own experiences and offer support.

Learn more by reading What to Expect When Living with Heart Failure.

MYTH: Exercise is dangerous if I'm diagnosed with heart failure.

Until the late 1980s, doctors discouraged people with heart failure from exercising. Today exercise is no longer off-limits, and may even be prescribed as part of a treatment plan for HF.15 Physical activity is known to have many benefits for your heart health and overall wellbeing, including increased energy, improved circulation, and greater muscle strength.16

What works for your family member or friend with heart failure may not be right for you. Your doctor can help you determine which types of exercise are best for you based on the specifics of your condition and any other illnesses you may have.13 Always consult your doctor before trying a new workout.

You can live a full life with heart failure, and there are steps you can take every day to support your health and quality of life. Read more about
What to Expect When Living with Heart Failure.

Ready to talk to your doctor about heart failure? Download our doctor discussion guide and take it to your next appointment.

References

  1. Savarese, G., & Lund, L. H. (2017). Global Public Health Burden of Heart Failure. Cardiac Failure Review,03(01), 7-11. doi:10.15420/cfr.2016:25:2
  2. Heart failure. (2017, December 23). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142
  3. Heart attack. (2018, May 30). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106
  4. Heart Failure Fact Sheet. (2019, January 8). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_failure.htm
  5. Causes of Heart Failure. (2017, May 31). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/causes-and-risks-for-heart-failure/causes-of-heart-failure
  6. Heart Failure. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure
  7. What is Heart Failure? (2017, May 31). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heart-failure
  8. Understanding Heart Failure. (2019, May 1). Retrieved June 2019, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17069-heart-failure-understanding-heart-failure
  9. Types of Heart Failure. (2017, May 31). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/what-is-heart-failure/types-of-heart-failure
  10. Heart Failure Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/heart_failure/treatment.html
  11. Diet and Congestive Heart Failure. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/diet_and_congestive_heart_failure/
  12. Heart failure. (2017, December 23). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373148
  13. Heart Failure - Exercise. (2018, November 27). Retrieved June 2019, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17075-heart-failure-exercise
  14. Smoking and Your Heart. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2019, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/smoking-and-your-heart
  15. Cattadori, G., Segurini, C., Picozzi, A., Padeletti, L., & Anzà, C. (2017). Exercise and heart failure: An update. ESC Heart Failure,5(2), 222-232. doi:10.1002/ehf2.12225
  16. Study: Vigorous Exercise May Help Heart Failure. (2014, March 27). Retrieved June 2019, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/study-vigorous-exercise-may-help-heart-failure/

A MyHeartDiseaseTeam Member said:

I am 68 years old. Had a heart attack in 2011. Got a stent. I was taking only a baby aspirin. Lived great life swimming, biking, walking since then.… read more

posted 16 days ago

hug (2)

Recent articles

Article written by Alison Channon The 2020 fall and winter holiday season will be different than...

How To Have a Safe Holiday With Heart Disease During COVID-19

Article written by Alison Channon The 2020 fall and winter holiday season will be different than...
During the COVID-19 pandemic, MyHeartDiseaseTeam will provide summaries and links to articles of...

COVID-19 and Heart Disease Essential Updates

During the COVID-19 pandemic, MyHeartDiseaseTeam will provide summaries and links to articles of...
Thousands of members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam connect with one another and read each other's stories...

Four Books About Heart Disease You Should Read

Thousands of members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam connect with one another and read each other's stories...
Article written by Christine SprungerIt is vital to seek urgent care for new or worsening heart...

Heart Disease, Emergency Treatment, and the Stress of Health Care Delays Due to COVID-19

Article written by Christine SprungerIt is vital to seek urgent care for new or worsening heart...
Article written by Christine SprungerThe past several weeks have been unprecedented in our...

COVID-19 and Heart Disease: Are You At a Greater Risk?

Article written by Christine SprungerThe past several weeks have been unprecedented in our...
Article written by Kelly Crumrin According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...

Canceling Is Kindness: Keeping Safe From COVID-19 With Heart Disease

Article written by Kelly Crumrin According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...
Eat healthier. Exercise more. Learn a new skill. Pay off a credit card. Many of us have made...

Setting Intentions for 2020 With Heart Disease

Eat healthier. Exercise more. Learn a new skill. Pay off a credit card. Many of us have made...
This time of the year can be overwhelming with expectations around the holidays, and living with...

Practicing Gratitude With Heart Disease

This time of the year can be overwhelming with expectations around the holidays, and living with...
If you’ve had a heart attack – or were diagnosed with heart disease - eating a nutritious,...

Foods to Avoid When You Have Heart Disease

If you’ve had a heart attack – or were diagnosed with heart disease - eating a nutritious,...
You don’t have to sacrifice all your favorite foods – or delicious taste, texture and flavor - on...

MyHeartDiseaseTeam’s Favorite Healthy Foods

You don’t have to sacrifice all your favorite foods – or delicious taste, texture and flavor - on...
MyHeartDiseaseTeam My heart disease Team

Two Ways to Get Started with MyHeartDiseaseTeam

Become a Member

Connect with others who are living with heart disease. Get members only access to emotional support, advice, treatment insights, and more.

sign up

Become a Subscriber

Get the latest articles about heart disease sent to your inbox.

Not now, thanks

Privacy policy
MyHeartDiseaseTeam My heart disease Team

Thank you for signing up.

close