Heart failure

Heart failure is a complex condition caused by a weakening or stiffening of the heart muscle which leads to symptoms during exertion or sometimes even at rest.

A detailed discussion of your current symptoms will help to determine whether you may be developing this condition. Common symptoms include breathlessness, difficulty breathing when lying flat, waking suddenly with breathlessness, fatigue, weight gain or ankle swelling.

There are many possible causes of heart failure and a careful history and physical examination is required to determine which factors may be important in your specific situation. Further tests (such as blood tests and an electrocardiogram) are usually needed to assess for any causes that may be contributing – the reason for any tests will be carefully explained to you. An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) is particularly important in guiding your treatment and results of this important test will be discussed in detail.

Your treatment plan will be tailored to your own, specific situation. Lowering your intake of fluid and taking diuretics (medication that removes fluid from the body) can often help to improve your symptoms and ability to exercise. Depending on your ultrasound results, other medications may also be recommended. As patients with heart failure tend to develop increased fluid retention at times, a clear plan for recognising worsening fluid retention and taking action early will also be developed with you and your general practitioner.

Many patients experience a very significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life with medications alone. Initially you may need more regular appointments to ensure that you are on the most appropriate types and dose of medications for this condition. If you could benefit from other treatments such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, cardiac surgery or an ablation procedure for an abnormal heart rhythm you may be referred on to another specialist for further evaluation and management.