Heart Failure Facts

Heart Failure facts

Know the basics of Heart Failure (HF)

When you’re managing a condition like Heart Failure, it’s important to work with your doctor and take an active role in your treatment. But to do that, you’ll need to know the facts.

What is Heart Failure?

The words can be misleading. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the other organs of the body, but “Heart Failure” doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working. It means it can’t pump properly—so it doesn’t fully support the body’s need for blood and oxygen.

Heart Failure is serious

Heart Failure is one of the most common reasons people over the age of 65 are hospitalized. It can get worse over time and can even lead to death. The good news is that there are medicines proven to help manage it—along with healthy changes in lifestyle.

How common is Heart Failure?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Heart Failure, you’re not alone.

  • In the United States, nearly 6 million people are living with Heart Failure

  • One out of every 5 people will develop Heart Failure over the course of their lifetime

What does Heart Failure look like?

Normal heart

Normal heart

Strong muscular walls squeeze and relax to pump blood out to all parts of the body, supplying the organs with oxygen.

Heart Failure

Heart Failure

The heart muscle slowly weakens and loses its ability to pump blood. The heart is unable to pump enough blood for the body’s needs.

What causes Heart Failure?

Diseases that damage the heart can increase your risk of developing Heart Failure. Among them:

  • Coronary heart disease (the most common kind of heart disease)

  • Heart attacks

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

Certain behaviors can also increase your risk of developing Heart Failure, such as:

  • Smoking

  • Eating foods that are high in salt, fat, and cholesterol

  • Not getting enough physical activity

  • Being overweight

Go beyond the facts on Heart Failure. Register for the Keep It Pumping resource program, including your free Heart Failure Handbook.

The language of Heart Failure

When you or someone you care about is diagnosed with Heart Failure, you suddenly have a whole new language to learn. Here are some commonly used medical terms you may need to know.

ACE inhibitor

A medicine that helps lower blood pressure and helps in treating Heart Failure by blocking production of angiotensin II, a hormone that circulates in the blood and squeezes blood vessels, and as a result increases the workload on the heart.


Another medicine that helps block the action of angiotensin II, a hormone which can cause high blood pressure and increase the workload on the heart.


One of the heart's top two chambers. Blood arriving back in the atria (plural of “atrium”) gets pushed down into the ventricles after circulating through the body and giving up its oxygen to supply the organs.

Blood pressure

The force with which blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps.


The lowest pressure in the arteries as the heart muscle relaxes, allowing it to fill with blood. In blood pressure readings it appears as the second of the two numbers.

Diuretics (water pills)

Drugs that increase urine production to help lower the amount of sodium and water in the blood. This in turn helps fight fluid buildup and lower blood pressure.

Edema (also known as fluid or water retention)

The medical term for swelling, usually of the legs, hands, and feet, when too much fluid builds up in the body tissues. It can signal many different diseases and conditions, including heart and circulation problems.

Ejection fraction (EF)

A measure of how well your heart is pumping out blood. It’s used to diagnose and monitor Heart Failure. The ejection fraction for a normal heart ranges between 50 and 70.

High blood pressure

A disease where the blood flows too forcefully through the arteries. In time, this can stretch the artery walls beyond what’s healthy, which can damage the arteries.

Preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF)—or diastolic Heart Failure

The heart muscle contracts, or squeezes, normally, but the ventricles don’t relax properly, which prevents them from filling completely. So the body fails to get all the blood it needs.

Reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF)—also known as systolic Heart Failure

The heart muscle does not contract, or squeeze, effectively or normally, so less oxygen-rich blood is pumped out to the body.


A mineral that’s naturally present in some foods. Everyday table salt—sodium chloride—is 40% sodium by weight. Too much sodium can cause fluid retention and increase the workload on the heart.


Something patients experience that can’t be measured—like trouble lying flat to sleep or getting tired/winded after walking up a flight of stairs. A sign—as in “signs and symptoms”—is something like blood pressure that can be measured by others.


The blood pressure at the moment the heart beats—when the heart muscle contracts (squeezes) and there’s maximum pressure in the arteries as the blood flows through them. In blood pressure readings, it appears as the first of the two numbers.


A hollow space in a body organ. In the heart, this refers to one of the two lower chambers where the blood is pumped back out to the arteries.

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