Heart failure is a disorder in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood efficiently. This can cause blood to back up and not reach other organs in your body. Heart failure does not mean your heart has stopped working, it just means your heart isn’t working as well as it should.

There are many kinds of heart failure, but the two most common types are diastolic heart failure and systolic heart failure. Diastolic heart failure means your heart does not relax enough for the correct amount of blood to fill the bottom part of your heart. Systolic heart failure means your heart muscle is not strong enough to pump out the blood from the bottom part of your heart.

Heart Failure Facts

  • Over 5 million Americans are living with heart failure, with 550,000 new cases being diagnosed each year
  • In 2009, 1 in 9 deaths were related to heart failure
  • About half of people diagnosed with heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis
  • Heart failure costs approximately $32 billion every year
  • Heart failure is the most costly diagnosis in the Medicare population
  • Heart failure is the most common cause for hospitalization in patients over 65

At UT Medical Center, we are committed to continuing research and creating innovative programs for the treatment and management of heart failure.

Heart Failure Symptoms

Patients with heart failure often complain of the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Swelling in feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or generalized weight gain
  • Easy fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Feeling full or sick at stomach
  • Confusion
  • Fast heart rate or palpitations (feeling “skipped beats”)

Just because you have these symptoms does not mean you have heart failure. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see your primary care provider. If you think you are having a medical emergency, please call 911.

What Causes Heart Failure?

Heart failure is the result of a weak heart muscle. In heart failure, the heart muscle may get stiff and not allow blood to fill the bottom of the heart, or the heart muscle may not be strong enough to pump out blood from the bottom of the heart.

The most common cause of heart failure is having uncontrolled high blood pressure. Having blood pressure that is usually over 140/80mmHg means you are at risk for developing heart failure.

Other causes are:

  • Heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Abnormality of heart valves
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Certain viruses or infections

It is important to talk to your doctor about what caused your heart failure. Sometimes, people develop heart failure without a known cause.

The evaluation of patients with heart failure focuses on defining the underlying cause of the condition, often with emphasis on finding correctable etiologies such as blockage of coronary arteries and abnormalities of heart valves. This assessment can be complex and costly.

Heart Failure Treatment

Treatment for heart failure usually focuses on the cause of your heart failure. For example, if your heart failure is caused by a blockage in your heart arteries (coronary artery disease) or a problem with your heart valves, fixing these problems will help your heart pump better. Fixing these problems will not cure your heart failure, but will make it easier for your heart function properly. There is no cure for heart failure. But there are things you and your doctor can do to help your heart work better.


There are a lot of medication options for people with heart failure. Most of these medications focus on taking stress off of the heart and improving the pumping ability of your heart muscle. Diuretics, or water pills, and blood pressure pills are common treatment options for heart failure. Talk to your doctor about medications that are prescribed to you. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about your medications, it is very important that you understand what you are taking and why.


Your doctor will talk to you about surgery options if you need them. A lot of people do well without surgery. Surgeries such as coronary artery bypass grafting (open-heart surgery), coronary angiography (heart catheterization), medical device placement, and heart transplants are available. Other surgical procedures are currently being investigated.

Lifestyle Changes

In order to slow down the progression of heart failure, relieve symptoms, and improve your quality of life, you will need to make some lifestyle changes.

  • If you smoke, quit. For more information about smoking cessation, visit SmokeFree.Gov
  • Try to eat a low-fat, heart-healthy diet.
  • Watch how much salt you eat. Do not add salt to your meals, and be aware of how much salt is in the food you’re eating.
  • Exercise regularly, and lose weight if needed. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program to make sure your heart is strong enough for exercise. For more information about exercise with a cardiac disease, refer to our helpful guide.
  • Your doctor may suggest cardiac rehabilitation, a monitored exercise program aimed at helping people with heart problems. For more information about cardiac rehabilitation at UT Medical Center, please visit Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation for class time and FAQ, or call 865-305-6920.
  • Avoid alcohol. Excessive drinking is known to weaken the heart muscle, which leads to heart failure.
  • Avoid or limit caffeine intake. Excessive caffeine can lead to fast heart rates, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Talk to your doctor about how much caffeine you should be having in a day.
  • Reduce stress. Stress in an inevitable part of life, but learning how to manage it will help your heart.
  • Your doctor may want you to check your blood pressure and keep track of any symptoms you have. Keeping a blood pressure diary will help you and your doctor know how your blood pressure is at home.
  • You may be told to weigh yourself every day.

Because lifestyle and dietary modifications are so important in the management of heart failure, it is vital for you to have a good, honest relationship with your doctor or other primary care provider.

If you do not have a primary care provider, it is important that you find one. Visit Primary Care or call toll-free 1-877-882-2737.