Overview of Heart Failure

What is it?

Heart Failure (HF) can occur when your heart cannot pump blood efficiently; meaning that not enough blood can pumped around to the rest of your body.

Often it is because your heart has become weakened or even too thick and stiff to pump effectively.

HF should not be interpreted as your heart stopping, that is a different condition called a called a cardiac arrest.

Different types of Heart Failure

There are four types of heart failure.

It would be best to speak with your cardiologist about which of these types is applicable to your condition:

Diastolic: this is a condition where your left ventricle (the main pumping chamber) cannot relax or fill effectively

Systolic: the left ventricle cannot pump effectively

Right-sided: you experience a fluid build-up in areas such as your legs and abdomen

Left-sided: you experience an accumulation of fluid in your lungs that can lead you to feel short of breath


There are many causes for HF:


It is estimated that around 111,000 in Australia have a form of Heart Failure, however it is the heart condition that is responsible for the 2nd most-related admissions.

Women in Australia have less hospitalisations than men for heart failure.

Heart failure is more prominent in Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander populations.

In the UK, women have a high incidence of HF than men, however in Australia men have a higher incidence than women.

Heart Failure Causes


Signs and Symptoms

You heart failure symptoms may depend on your type of heart failure.

These are some of the potential heart failure symptoms you may experience:

  • Significant weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Waking up at night to pass urine frequently
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Palpitations
  • Noticeable decrease in your tolerance of exercise
  • Coughing and wheezing, at times with phlegm and blood
  • Oedema (fluid build-up) in your legs, calves and feet
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Fatigue
Heart Failure Symptoms

Treatment for Heart Failure

There are many different treatment options available for Heart Failure, it depends on your severity of heart failure.

Overall, the aim of treatment for HF is to improve the overall management of symptoms and improve your quality of life. It would be best to discuss these treatment options with your doctor.

Medication Treatment For Heart Failure:

there are different medications which may be required for treating HF to help manage your symptoms and maintain your heart function. NPS Medicinewise could be a good place to find out more information about them, as well as speaking to your doctors or pharmacist.


these medications aim to remove excess fluid from your body


these medications are designed to normalise your heart rate and rhythm

ACE inhibitors:

ACE inhibitors work to decrease the amount of salt retained by the body, reducing your overall blood pressure

Aldosterone antagonists:

these are a type of diuretic that are helpful for people with heart failure.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers:

these medications relax your blood vessels, reducing your overall blood pressure.

Lifestyle Modifications For Heart Failure:

there are different lifestyle modifications you can do to manage your heart failure:

Reduce your overall salt intake as excess salt can increase your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart

Weigh yourself daily, as an increase on of 2kgs in 2 days could indicate that you need to see your doctor to manage your fluid levels

Watch the amount of fluids you drink to reduce strain on your heart, typically aiming for only 1.5L per day.

Monitor your symptoms, as keeping a daily check on your symptoms such as swelling in the ankles can help you understand your condition and report if things have changed to your doctor.

Quit Smoking to reduce your overall risk of heart disease and improve your symptoms

Regularly exercise in order to manage your blood pressure, circulate fluid as well as improve your mood

Have an annual flu vaccination as any chest infections can increase the severity of your heart failure

Procedures For Heart Failure:

you may need procedures or surgery on your heart if you have heart failure

Pacemaker: a pacemaker regulates your heart rhythm if it is in a rate that may be either too slow, fast or irregular. It may also help manage your symptoms.

Heart valve surgery: this surgery to repair or replace one of your heart valves could reduce your symptoms.

Heart transplant: if your heart is not responding to treatments your doctor may discuss the option of a heart transplant with you.

Prevention and Support

Follow the links below to find out more about how you can help prevent and support loved ones who have experienced Heart Failure



It is worth adopting prevention strategies for heart disease to reduce your overall risk of heart failure and live a longer, more active life.


Reaching out to a support group could be a beneficial way to meet other people who have had Heart Failure, as well as support for individuals affected.


Caring for someone who has had a Heart Failure can be very stressful. If you are struggling, discuss how you feel with someone.


What you need to know

Women tend to live longer than men who have heart failure, which is fantastic news for women living with the condition.

However, women tend to experience more emotional difficulties associated with managing the condition. For example, women are more likely to experience depression in conjunction with their heart failure.

The leading causes for heart failure in women (diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease) are all avoidable; leading a more heart-friendly lifestyle could be enough to manage your overall risk.

It is essential if you are diagnosed with Heart Failure to remain upbeat and work closely with your doctors and heart failure nurse to manage your health and wellbeing.

Whilst heart failure cannot be cured, it is a condition you can manage with lifestyle changes and medications.

To maintain a healthy long-term outcome some helpful suggestions are:

  • Attend regular appointments with your specialists and heart failure nurse so they can monitor your progress
  • Work with your treating team to develop a plan to manage your heart failure in an approach that works for you.

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, we recommend speaking with your doctor and treating team to learn more about daily management.

Research suggests that attending a Secondary Prevention Program for managing Heart Diseases can decrease the chance of being admitted to hospital, reduce your complications as well increase survival rates.

One suggestion is cardiac rehabilitation, as these programs will teach you more about your disease, help you recover, empower you to make lifestyle changes to improve heart health as well as reduce your risk of further problems. Click here to find your nearest cardiac rehabilitation program.

Your doctor may have recommended that you take some new medications if you have cardiomyopathy.

This could be an overwhelming time for you, especially as learn all about your new medications as well as any considerations for taking them. Apart from having a discussion with your doctor and pharmacist, NPS Medicinewise has some great information on medication management, medication disposal as well as risk factors.

They also have some great information about medications for your heart, which can be found here.

It’s not too late to start looking after your heart health, even after a diagnosis of HF.

Here are some great and easy everyday strategies you can do to look after your heart health:

  • Don’t smoke, as quitting smoking can reduce your risk by 50% in one year. Quitline would be a great way to start your quitting smoking journey.
  • Stay active, 30 minutes per day of exercise, such as walking, can reduce your risk by 30% and delivers many positive health benefits. More information about exercise as well as a sample walking session can be found here.
  • Get some sleep, aim for 7-8 hours sleep and aim to try and unplug from your technology (e.g. iPad) one hour before bedtime. The Sleep Health Foundation has many great women’s focused sleep pages for all stages of your life such as your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, new mothers and menopause.
  • Eat healthy: ensure you watch portion sizes, eat healthy and nourishing foods such as: high fibre foods (including oats and legumes), two pieces of fruit and seven serves of vegetables, reduced salt, three serves of fish per week, reducing saturated fats (such as chicken with skin on, baked goods, fried foods) whilst choosing more lean proteins such as tofu and trimmed meats. The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute has created some handy factsheets to help you choose correct portions, supermarket shopping, healthy snacks and eating out.
  • Relax: try and take some time out for yourself, keep connected with friends and family, perhaps try activities such as meditation to help manage your stress levels. Beyond Blue has a great page full of practical stress relieving tips, and it could be worth to try some meditations from apps such as Smiling Mind, Headspace and Calm.

Yes! There are support groups and associations you can contact to connect with other women who have survived coronary artery disease:

What Is Heart Failure