Heart Failure

Web Resource Last Updated: 31-01-2023

Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping blood around your body as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working. If the heart doesn’t pump properly, it can lead to a build-up of fluid in the body.

Heart failure is more common in people with diabetes. The good news is that there are lots of treatments to improve the symptoms as well as preserve heart function.

1. What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The main symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath – if fluid collects in the lungs
  • Swollen feet and ankles – due to fluid collection around the feet
  • Feeling unusually tired or weak – due to reduced pumping of blood around the body

2. What causes heart failure?

There are lots of reasons why heart failure occurs. It can be sudden or it can happen slowly over months or years.

The commonest causes of heart failure are:

Heart attack

This can cause long-term damage to your heart, affecting how well the heart can pump.  See our heart disease resource.

High blood pressure

This puts strain on the heart, which over time can lead to heart failure. 


A disease of the heart muscle. There are different types which can either be inherited or caused by diabetes as well as other things, such as viral infections or pregnancy.

3. How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your doctor will check to see if you have symptoms or signs of heart failure, and may recommend that you have tests such as:

  • blood tests
  • a tracing of your heartbeat (electrocardiogram)
  • an x-ray
  • ultrasound scan of the heart (echocardiogram)

4. What are the treatments for heart failure?

Heart failure can't be cured, but the treatments available help control symptoms—meaning that many people with heart failure live full and active lives.

  • Medication
    • improves symptoms and reduces the build-up of fluid
    • most people need to take 2 or 3 different medications to control heart failure
    • SGLT-2 inhibitors (eg Dapagliflozin and Empagliflozin) are particularly useful for people with diabetes as they can both improve blood sugar control and reduce the symptoms of heart failure.
  • Pacemaker or similar device (implantable cardiac defibrillator) - to help your heart pump blood around your body
  • Heart Surgery – to open up or bypass blocked arteries.

5. Is there anything I can do to improve my heart failure?

Making changes to your lifestyle will have a big impact on improving your health. The things that will really help are:

  • stopping smoking
  • limiting how much alcohol you drink
  • managing stress
  • keeping active
  • keeping to a healthy weight
  • making sure your blood pressure is controlled

For more information, you might like to look at the following websites:

British Heart Foundation - https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/heart-failure

NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/  

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