Heart failure (HF), also known as chronic heart failure (CHF), is when the heart is unable to pump sufficiently to maintain blood flow to meet the body's needs. Signs and symptoms of heart failure commonly include shortness of breath, excessive tiredness, and leg swelling. The shortness of breath is usually worse with exercise, while lying down, and may wake the person at night. A limited ability to exercise is also a common feature. Chest pain, including angina, does not typically occur due to heart failure.
The term "acute" is used to mean rapid onset, and "chronic" refers to long duration. Chronic heart failure is a long-term condition, usually kept stable by the treatment of symptoms. Acute decompensated heart failure is a worsening of chronic heart failure symptoms which can result in acute respiratory distress. High-output heart failure can occur when there is an increased cardiac output. The circulatory overload caused, can result in an increased left ventricular diastolic pressure which can develop into pulmonary congestion (pulmonary edema).
The left side of the heart is responsible for receiving oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumping it forward to the systemic circulation (the rest of the body except for the pulmonary circulation). Failure of the left side of the heart causes blood to back up (be congested) into the lungs, causing respiratory symptoms as well as fatigue due to insufficient supply of oxygenated blood. Common respiratory signs are increased rate of breathing and increased work of breathing (non-specific signs of respiratory distress). Rales or crackles, heard initially in the lung bases, and when severe, throughout the lung fields suggest the development of pulmonary edema (fluid in the alveoli). Cyanosis which suggests severe low blood oxygen, is a late sign of extremely severe pulmonary edema.
Backward failure of the right ventricle leads to congestion of systemic capillaries. This generates excess fluid accumulation in the body. This causes swelling under the skin (termed peripheral edema or anasarca) and usually affects the dependent parts of the body first (causing foot and ankle swelling in people who are standing up, and sacral edema in people who are predominantly lying down). Nocturia (frequent nighttime urination) may occur when fluid from the legs is returned to the bloodstream while lying down at night. In progressively severe cases, ascites (fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity causing swelling) and liver enlargement may develop. Significant liver congestion may result in impaired liver function (congestive hepatopathy), and jaundice and even coagulopathy (problems of decreased or increased blood clotting) may occur.
Viral infections of the heart can lead to inflammation of the muscular layer of the heart and subsequently contribute to the development of heart failure. Heart damage can predispose a person to develop heart failure later in life and has many causes including systemic viral infections (e.g., HIV), chemotherapeutic agents such as daunorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and trastuzumab, and abuse of drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine. An uncommon cause is exposure to certain toxins such as lead and cobalt. Additionally, infiltrative disorders such as amyloidosis and connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus have similar consequences. Obstructive sleep apnea (a condition of sleep wherein disordered breathing overlaps with obesity, hypertension, and/or diabetes) is regarded as an independent cause of heart failure.
Echocardiography is commonly used to support a clinical diagnosis of heart failure. This modality uses ultrasound to determine the stroke volume (SV, the amount of blood in the heart that exits the ventricles with each beat), the end-diastolic volume (EDV, the total amount of blood at the end of diastole), and the SV in proportion to the EDV, a value known as the ejection fraction (EF). In pediatrics, the shortening fraction is the preferred measure of systolic function. Normally, the EF should be between 50% and 70%; in systolic heart failure, it drops below 40%. Echocardiography can also identify valvular heart disease and assess the state of the pericardium (the connective tissue sac surrounding the heart). Echocardiography may also aid in deciding what treatments will help the person, such as medication, insertion of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator or cardiac resynchronization therapy. Echocardiography can also help determine if acute myocardial ischemia is the precipitating cause, and may manifest as regional wall motion abnormalities on echo.
Blood tests routinely performed include electrolytes (sodium, potassium), measures of kidney function, liver function tests, thyroid function tests, a complete blood count, and often C-reactive protein if infection is suspected. An elevated B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a specific test indicative of heart failure. Additionally, BNP can be used to differentiate between causes of dyspnea due to heart failure from other causes of dyspnea. If myocardial infarction is suspected, various cardiac markers may be used.
There are various algorithms for the diagnosis of heart failure. For example, the algorithm used by the Framingham Heart Study adds together criteria mainly from physical examination. In contrast, the more extensive algorithm by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) weights the difference between supporting and opposing parameters from the medical history, physical examination, further medical tests as well as response to therapy.