PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

What to Know About Heart Failure

Posted on Feb 16, 2016


According to the American Heart Association, about 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure and that number is expected to rise to nearly 8 million in 2030. So what is heart failure and how can you avoid it?

“If you have heart failure, it means that your heart is unable to provide the support your body needs to function normally,” says Jared J. Herr, M.D., a cardiologist specializing in heart failure at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “It can’t keep up with pumping blood rich in nutrients and oxygen to all the organs in the body.”

There are two main reasons for heart failure. Either the heart muscle has stiffened (diastolic heart failure) or it has weakened (systolic heart failure).

Heart Failure Symptoms

“Some people may not experience any symptoms initially,” explains Dr. Herr. “Others will experience symptoms when the heart’s mechanisms to compensate for not being able to do its job properly begin to fail. For example, the heart may become enlarged, pump faster or your blood pressure may fall. Blood vessels respond by constricting to raise blood pressure. Then, because of this, the body shunts blood to the most important organs such as the heart and brain, neglecting the kidneys or liver.”

This results in symptoms including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • An irregular heart beat
  • Feeling dizzy and light-headed
  • Weight increase, swollen feet, ankles and legs and feeling bloated
  • Tiredness and inability to do activities you used to be able to do

Causes of Heart Failure

People are most at risk of heart failure if they have a disease that damages the heart, including:

  • Coronary heart disease (the most common type of heart disease)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiomyopathy (diseases of the heart muscle)
  • Valve diseases
  • Kidney failure

“If you have any of these conditions, it’s very important to make healthy lifestyle changes and get treated now to prevent getting heart failure,” recommends Dr. Herr. “Quit smoking, follow a healthy diet, exercise and lose weight if you are overweight.”

Although there is no cure for heart failure there are many steps you can take to slow the disease’s progression and live a healthy life.

“Treatment options usually include taking medication, following a low-sodium diet, restricting fluids and getting daily exercise,” says Dr. Herr. “Patients may also need surgery to unblock arteries or a defibrillator or pacemaker placed in the chest to help control abnormal heart rhythms. Tracking your symptoms every day and working closely with your care team is also critical to managing the disease in the best possible way.”

Learn more about heart disease and preventing heart attacks on our blog:

The Truth About Heart Health

Heart Disease: What to Know

New Guidelines for Preventing Heart Attacks: What They Mean for You



 Jared J. Herr, M.D., is a board-certified cardiologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.