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Heart & Vascular Center

Conditions Leading to Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart does not pump well enough to meet the body’s demand for oxygen. Heart failure can result from a damaged or weakened left ventricle (known as systolic dysfunction) or a stiff ventricle (known as diastolic dysfunction). 

Conditions that could lead to the development of heart failure include: 

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Signs and symptoms of heart failure develop when the vital organs of the body do not receive adequate blood supply. If left untreated, blood starts to back up into the veins leading to the heart. This causes fluid buildup in the lungs and other parts of the body, causing increased shortness of breath with limited exertion or while lying flat.

Other advanced symptoms include:

  • persistent coughing or wheezing  (especially when lying down)
  • fatigue, weakness 
  • feeling of suffocation while sleeping 
  • shortness of breath 
  • increased heart rate
  • fluid buildup (edema), especially in the legs, ankles and feet 
  • sudden weight gain 
  • nausea, abdominal swelling, tenderness or pain

Diagnosing Heart Failure

Once heart failure is suspected, the diagnosis is confirmed with a careful history and examination. Imaging tests are necessary to evaluate heart function, determine the underlying cause of heart dysfunction and develop a treatment plan. 

Tests and procedures used to diagnose heart failure may include: 

  • echocardiogram (ultrasound test of the heart)
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • stress testing (echocardiogram or nuclear imaging) 
  • cardiac catheterization

Treating Heart Failure

Heart failure treatment has advanced dramatically over the last 20 years. The heart failure program at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital has been involved in many of the clinical studies that helped develop new drug and device therapies. 

To learn more, visit our Heart Failure Treatment Options page.

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart or vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call .

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