Patient's Guide to Heart Failure

If you've been told you have heart failure, you are not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports almost 6 million Americans with heart failure. It is a treatable condition with different stages that may require different treatments. Understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment of heart failure will help you take charge of your health. 

Under the direction of Michele Hamilton, MD, the Cedars-Sinai team of heart failure/transplant specialists, along with advanced practice nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals, guide each patient through their medical journey. This may include optimized medical therapy, a heart transplant or a mechanical circulatory device to help the heart pump, sometimes in conjunction with a clinical trial. We emphasize coordination with other teams within the Smidt Heart Institute to ensure you receive the best care and outcomes possible.

Understanding Heart Failure

Heart failure happens when the heart cannot pump out enough blood to the body. This is because the heart muscle becomes too weak or too stiff or the muscle cannot relax normally. Whatever the reason, it means less blood is pumped out from the heart with each beat. As the chambers of the heart overfill with blood, pressure and fluid build up in your lungs and other parts of your body. If left untreated, your heart failure symptoms can worsen.

Signs & Symptoms of Heart Failure

There are many different symptoms of heart failure, depending on the cause. Symptoms may come on suddenly or happen gradually and can range from mild to severe.

The main symptoms include the following:

F—Fatigue or tiredness.

A—Activities are limited; you are not able to do what you normally could do.

C—Chest congestion or cough.

E—Edema or swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, belly or lower back.

S—Shortness of breath or having trouble breathing, at rest or with activities or when lying in a flat position.

Other symptoms you may notice:

  • Chest pain
  • Racing or fast heartbeat
  • Confusion, feelings of restlessness, anxiety, sleepiness
  • Dizziness, fainting
  • Weight gain from fluid retention
  • Weight loss due to loss of appetite
  • Rapid breathing or wheezing
  • Waking up breathless at night
  • Nausea, decreased appetite, abdominal swelling, tenderness or pain caused by the buildup of fluid in the belly and liver
  • Sleeping propped up on 2 or 3 pillows or sleeping in a reclining chair so you can breathe better
Find an Expert/Need a Second Opinion?

The Heart Failure team at Cedars-Sinai provides expert care and innovation to bring you optimal results. If you have questions, need a second opinion or require special care, contact the Cedars-Sinai Heart Failure Program.

Why Do Hearts Fail?

These are the common causes of heart failure:

  • Coronary artery disease: Blocked or narrow arteries can cause a heart attack, which may injure and weaken the heart muscle. This injury may cause the heart to not pump as well as it did before.
  • Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure, this condition causes the heart to work harder to pump blood out against narrowed arteries.
  • Heart valve problems: Leaky or narrowed heart valves cause the blood to not flow properly through the heart, which makes the heart work harder.
  • Family history: Heart disease can run in the family. Also, congenital heart defects can be present at birth, which can affect how well the heart pumps.
  • Other causes: Infections, alcohol abuse and illegal drugs can damage the heart muscle. Lung disease, anemia, thyroid disease and diabetes can injure the heart as well.
Conditions and Treatments

When it comes to diagnosis and treatment for heart failure and the full array of related conditions, the Heart Failure team at Cedars-Sinai can support you with the most effective treatments available. Treatments range from advanced therapies to minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Guide to Living Successfully With Advanced Heart Failure

Read this guide to learn more about:

  • What happens to your heart during heart failure and how your body tries to adjust to it. 
  • The right kinds of foods to eat and fluids to intake when you have heart failure. 
  • Medications, daily weight, exercise and other things you need to know to stay well.

Related Programs

Additional programs are available at Cedars-Sinai that your cardiologist or your doctor may talk to you about and recommend to you.

External Resources

There are a number of associations available to offer you additional information and support.

Have Questions or Need Help?

To learn more or make an appointment, call or send a message to the Heart Failure team. You also can have us call you back at your convenience.

Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Pacific Time (U.S.)
Available 24 hours a day

(1-800-233-2771)

24/7 Urgent Transfer or Physician Questions