Skip to Content

Heart Failure: Causes and Treatment

If you have heart failure, healthy choices are necessary

Two Veterans playing badmintonCongestive heart failure, or CHF, is a common chronic condition causing reduced ability of the heart to circulate blood. Often referred to as "heart failure," CHF often leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs and throughout the body, causing shortness of breath and an inability to exercise. While it's serious and has no cure, there are treatments VA recommends, such as lifestyle changes and medications, that can help reduce the symptoms of CHF, improve your heart health, and overall well-being.

What causes it?

Heart failure occurs when your heart can't pump oxygen-rich blood to all parts of your body as well as it should. Certain conditions can also worsen heart failure, including:

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Other heart conditions or diseases

What are the symptoms of CHF?

While some people don't show any signs of CHF, others can experience these common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath with activity

  • Shortness of breath when trying to lie flat

  • Shortness of breath that wakes you up in the middle of the night

  • A cough that won't go away

  • Sudden weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Lightheadedness

  • Swelling, especially in the legs and abdomen

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea

  • Increased heart rate

  • Heart palpitations

Chest pain can also be a sign of a heart attack. If you experience this or any other symptoms that may point to a severe heart condition, seek immediate medical attention.

How can I treat it?

You can live a longer, more active life if you challenge yourself today. Start by making these lifestyle changes to manage and improve your heart health:

  • Limit the amount of sodium in your diet to 2,000 mg per day

  • Stay physically active

  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight

  • Quit tobacco use

  • Take your medications as directed

  • Keep appointments with your medical provider

In addition to making heart-healthy changes, your doctor may also recommend these medications. Depending on the cause of CHF, your provider may advise a procedure or surgery. The sooner you start taking steps to improve your heart health, the better chance you have of managing heart failure symptoms.

Each case may be different, so work with your health care team to find the treatment options that work best for you. Medications may need to be frequently adjusted to keep the symptoms of CHF controlled.

Track and share your heart health progress

Your health care provider's treatment plan can help you manage or prevent CHF symptoms from developing. My HealtheVet's Track Health feature makes it easy to monitor heart health and lifestyle changes, such as keeping track of your vitals and recording your food intake. If you have a My HealtheVet Premium Account, you can use your VA Blue Button report to share your vitals with your physicians in or out of the VA system. If you don't have a Premium Account, you can upgrade your account now.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Read More

Understanding Heart Failure (Veterans Health Library)

Heart Failure (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Five Steps to a Healthier Heart

Updated June 1, 2021