Heart failure

Heart failure is a condition where your heart cannot pump blood around your body as well as it should. It does not mean that your heart has stopped working completely, but you may need support to help it to work better and to manage your symptoms.

Symptoms of heart failure

When the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should, you can experience a range of symptoms.

Speak to your GP practice if you have:

  • breathlessness
  • a persistent cough
  • tiredness or fatigue that occurs even at rest and gets worse with movement
  • swelling in the legs or ankles

Causes of heart failure

There are many reasons why someone might develop heart failure. These can include:

Diagnosing heart failure

Your doctor will ask you some questions about your symptoms and do an examination. If they think that you might have heart failure, you’ll be sent for some further tests.

Tests to confirm a diagnosis of heart failure may include:

  • blood tests to check for signs of a problem with your heart – this may include testing your BNP levels, which increase when the heart is not working well
  • a chest X-ray – to check if there’s fluid in your lungs or if a lung condition is causing the symptoms
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG) – records the electrical activity and rhythms of your heart
  • an echocardiogram – checks the pumping action of your heart and the function of the valves in your heart

Treating heart failure

If you have heart failure, treatments are available to help you manage your symptoms. This can help to improve your quality of life.

Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. The best option for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

The standard medicines for treating heart failure are:

  • angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • angiotensin-receptor neprilysin inhibitor (ARNI)
  • angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • beta blockers
  • diuretics (water tablets)
  • mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRAs)

For some people with severe heart failure, a heart transplant may be recommended. Your doctor will discuss whether this is an appropriate option for you.

Managing heart failure


  • keep as active as possible
  • keep a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy diet
  • limit alcohol intake
  • stop smoking


Living with heart failure can bring a lot of uncertainty. Some people might find this difficult.

You can get support in dealing with heart failure from:

Further information on heart failure

Last updated:
04 July 2024