Heart Failure

by Michael_Koger

Heart failure is a well-known infirmity which especially affects elderly individuals.

Heart failure occurs when there is a decrease in the ability of that organ to pump blood. It commonly occurs in clients who have had high blood pressure or coronary heart disease for several years. The heart may enlarge. The result is that fluid accumulates in the lungs, and this leads to difficulty breathing [1, 2].

These patients may sit up at night to alleviate the shortness of breath, and they may prop their heads with one or more pillows. Such a situation has the name “orthopnea,” and physicians often describe the severity of the illness by the number of pillows they use to obtain relief. These clients may have swelling of the feet and ankles, and this stems from the abnormal accumulation of fluid [1, 2].

Other names for this illness include congestive heart failure, cardiac failure, left-sided heart failure, and right-sided heart failure [1].

Occurrence of Cardiac Failure

Approximately 5.7 million Americans have this medical condition.  It is particularly common in the elderly, African-Americans, those with overweight or obesity, and people who have suffered an acute myocardial infarction.  It is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission of those who are at least 65 years old.  Moreover, it tends to take place in men more than women [1, 2].

As with most illnesses, there are many factors which may predispose a person to heart failure.  These include defects of the heart since birth, valvular disease, infection of that organ, and irregular cardiac rhythms.  Additionally, thyroid disease, diabetes mellitus, alcohol or substance use disorders, and cancer chemotherapy commonly lead to it [1, 2].

Nevertheless, the most common cause of heart failure is the presence of coronary heart disease [1, 2].

It is a debilitating infirmity which accounts for $30 billion in health care costs in the United States and the leading cause of yearly hospitalizations in that country [2].


Cardiac failure is a chronic medical condition which scientists have studied for decades and very likely centuries.  Knowledge of it and lifestyle change, however, can prevent or delay its occurrence.


  1. American Heart Association.  (2015).  What is heart failure?
  2. Okwuosa, I., Princewill, O., Nwabueze, C. et al.  (2016).  The ABCs of managing systolic heart failure:  Past, present, and future.  Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 83, 753-765.
  3. The photo shows a stethoscope and is reprinted with permission from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Debora Cartagena.


The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact their physician for advice.

Updated: 11/23/2016, Michael_Koger
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