Acute heart failure is a sudden, life-threatening condition in which the heart is unable to do its job. The heart is still beating, but it cannot deliver enough oxygen to meet the body’s needs. This condition requires emergency medical care.
Heart failure is a life-threatening condition. When it occurs, your heart is still working, but it cannot deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. With acute heart failure, you experience a sudden, rapid decline in heart functioning and the amount of blood your heart can pump to the rest of your body.
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Acute heart failure occurs in people with or without previous heart issues:
Heart disease and certain medical conditions can make your heart work harder than usual.
This extra effort leads to physical changes that can include:
The changes are small at first. They start long before you experience acute heart failure symptoms. Over time, the changes get worse, making your heart work harder than it should. When your heart is no longer able to keep up, acute heart failure occurs.
One of the most common symptoms is shortness of breath (dyspnea). You may experience:
Other acute heart failure symptoms may include:
If you notice any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care as quickly as possible. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances of recovery.
Health issues that strain the heart increase your risk of heart failure:
Existing heart problems that cause ADHF include:
Healthcare providers perform a rapid assessment that includes:
Healthcare providers use a variety of tests to assess your symptoms, such as:
You may also need lab tests that include:
Emergency treatment for acute heart failure restores blood flow and oxygen levels. Care often includes:
After you leave the hospital, you may need medications, like beta blockers or water pills, to maximize heart health. Other treatments may be necessary to prevent future episodes of acute heart failure.
These treatments may include surgery to:
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of acute heart failure.
Following care instructions for chronic conditions like sleep apnea or diabetes.
The prognosis for heart failure varies widely and depends on the underlying cause and whether it can be treated.
Your outlook depends on a variety of factors, including:
Life after acute heart failure often includes changes, like getting more physical activity. You may also need to avoid certain foods and limit salt and fat intake.
It's important to pay careful attention to your body. This can help you detect the early signs of heart failure that come back after treatment. Your daily routine may include weighing yourself to check for fluid retention. Ongoing medical care can help you feel your best.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Acute heart failure is a sudden, life-threatening condition that occurs when your heart can no longer do its job. ADHF occurs in people with a history of heart disease. De novo heart failure is due to other medical conditions affecting the heart. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience heart failure symptoms. Timely care can save your life. And ongoing therapies lower the risk of future heart issues.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/23/2021.
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