Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump blood around the body properly, normally because it has become too weak or stiff. Blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, putting increased pressure on the heart and preventing it from pumping enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs. The chambers of the heart may stretch to hold more blood or might stiffen or thicken. Eventually the heart muscle walls may become weak.
If you have acute heart failure, the symptoms can come on very quickly. With chronic heart failure, they tend to develop over weeks or even months. If you experience sudden or severe symptoms, dial 999 or go straight to Accident & Emergency. It is important to talk as soon as possible to your doctor if you are experiencing persistent or worsening symptoms.
Heart failure is classified as 1 to 4 with 4 being the most severe form of the condition. The criteria for the different classifications is:
Class 1 – no symptoms during normal physical activity
Class 2 – comfortable at rest but normal physical activity triggers symptoms
Class 3 – comfortable at rest but minor physical activity triggers symptoms
Class 4 – unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort and possible symptoms even when resting
There isn’t a cure for heart failure; however, it is possible to control the symptoms successfully, often for many years. Knowing which stage of heart failure you are at will determine what type of treatment you receive.