Harvard Heart Letter

Don't delay if heart failure symptoms worsen

A phone call to a nurse or doctor could keep you out of the hospital.

The term "heart failure" conjures up the image of a heart on the verge of beating for the last time. Not so. In this context, failure means that the heart isn't able to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Common consequences include fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs.

Heart failure is often a manageable condition. Taking medications, balancing exercise and rest, following a low-sodium diet, and being careful about fluid intake can keep it in check and minimize symptoms. But heart failure can be a trickster. After a long stretch of being under control, it can flare up, and symptoms can get so bad that hospitalization is needed to control them.

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