Health conditions

Heart failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal. This causes blood to dam up behind the heart and fluid to collect in the lungs and other body tissues (oedema).

How common is heart failure?

It is estimated that at least 300,000 Australians are living with heart failure and every year around 30,000 Australians are newly diagnosed with the condition.

Causes of heart failure

The most common causes of heart failure include:

Less common causes of heart failure include heart valve disease and thyroid problems.

Signs and symptoms

Common symptoms of heart failure or chronic heart failure include

  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the ankles or belly
  • weight gain
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • dizziness
  • coughing.

Diagnosis of heart failure

There are a number of tests that your doctor can do to diagnose chronic heart failure.

  • Echocardiogram

This test uses ultrasound waves that come from a small hand piece placed on your chest wall. These waves bounce back to a detector and produce a picture of the heart as it beats, allowing your doctor to see the structure of your heart and how well it is working.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An ECG is a reading of your heart’s electrical impulses taken from electrical leads placed on your chest and limbs. It can be used to diagnose a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms (called arrhythmias).

This is a special X-ray that shows whether or not your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Under a local anaesthetic, a small tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery in your arm or groin and guided into the heart. Dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries and X-rays are taken. The X-rays give detailed information about the condition of these arteries.

Treatment of heart failure

There are many different types of medicines used to treat heart failure or chronic heart failure. It is important that you take all the medicines prescribed by your doctor.

If you think your medicine is not working, is causing you problems or you have any questions, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking your medicines without talking to your doctor first.

Your doctor might also recommend that you have a device, such as a pacemaker or implantable cardiac defibrillator implanted in your chest to help your heart work better.

In severe cases of heart failure, a heart transplant or other procedures may be needed.

For more information on pacemakers, implantable cardiac defibrillators and heart transplants visit Heart Foundation (external site).

Managing heart failure

Along with seeing your doctor regularly and taking your medicines as prescribed, lifestyle choices are very important in helping you manage heart failure.

Monitor and manage your fluid balance

Establish a daily routine of weighing yourself so you know if fluid is building up in your body.

There are 3 ways that you can help to manage your fluid balance:

  • manage your fluid intake
  • restrict your salt intake
  • take diuretic medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

Restrict your salt intake

Salt causes your body to retain fluid. Make sure you eat low salt foods and don't add salt to your food at the table or during cooking.

Be smoke-free

Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages the walls of your arteries. Stopping smoking is one of the most important things that you can do to reduce your risk of further heart disease.

For more information about quitting smoking, talk to your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 QUIT.

Limit your alcohol intake

Alcohol can damage your heart. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should drink alcohol. Your doctor may ask you to stop or limit your drinking.

Don't drink more than 1 to 2 standard drinks of alcohol a day. If your heart failure has been caused by alcohol, stop drinking altogether.

Chronic heart failure programs

You may be able to attend a special program to help you manage heart failure. These programs usually involve a number of health professionals, such as nurses, dietitians and exercise specialists.

Where to get help

  • Always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222
  • Phone the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12


  • Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal.
  • There are a number of ways heart failure can be treated, but one of the most important strategies is to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

This information provided by

Heart Foundation logo

Heart Foundation

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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