The Differences Between Heart Failure and Other Common Cardiac Conditions

Heart failure, on the other hand, is a condition that develops when your heart can’t pump enough blood through your body to sustain daily activities. Although the term “heart failure” makes it sound like your heart has stopped working, that’s not the case. While a serious condition that needs medical care, heart failure is something than can be managed and treated with medication and/or lifestyle changes.

While many of the symptoms of each type of heart condition tend to overlap, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, all symptoms should cause you to seek medical help.

Causes of heart failure

Commonly caused by other medical conditions that damage the heart, such as coronary heart disease, heart inflammation, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or even an irregular heartbeat, heart failure is something that can happen suddenly or evolve over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure.

Unlike a stroke or a heart attack, symptoms of heart failure are not always immediate, and because they can come on slow, in many cases are not initially life-threatening.

What’s happening?

With heart failure, because the heart is unable to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen, the heart tries to compensate by enlarging, developing extra muscle mass and pumping faster. Blood vessels narrow to help keep blood pressure up and the body begins to divert blood away from certain tissues and organs.

But these are all temporary fixes that mask the problem instead of helping it. Eventually, this results in fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that should prompt a call or visit to your physician.

The body’s compensation mechanisms help explain why some people may not become aware of their condition until years after their heart begins to decline, which is another reason regular visits to the doctor are a good idea.


Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath during daily activities,
  • Having trouble breathing when lying down,
  • Weight gain with swelling in the feet, legs, ankles or stomach, and
  • Generally feeling tired or weak.


If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor. After an exam your doctor may determine that tests and procedures could help determine the nature of any symptoms you may have. For example, testing can reveal if your heart's larger lower chambers, the ventricles, are responsible for your heart failure symptoms. These chambers may have lost some of their power to pump blood or their ability to relax and fill with blood.

Testing can also suggest which heart failure treatments would be most effective. Initial testing can consist of a physical exam, blood tests, chest X-rays, an Electrocardiogram or EKG, Echocardiogram (echo), stress test, MRI or cardiac catheterization. These tests can reveal different aspects of the various chambers of your heart to help your physician pinpoint the source of your symptoms.


The main ways to help avoid heart failure include prevention and control of the conditions that cause it. Often lifestyle changes as simple as quitting smoking, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods can help reduce risk of heart failure.

While making some of these lifestyle changes can sometimes seem daunting, working these changes into your daily routine gradually can help make a real difference in your quality of life and help you avoid maladies like heart failure.

How Brookdale helps residents manage heart failure

Learn more about how Brookdale partners with our residents' care teams to help manage heart failure in this video: 

Heart Failure

Caring for Chronic Conditions at Brookdale

The above content is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you have a medical condition. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.

Inside Brookdale Communities

See what’s happening on our community Instagram pages

Find a Brookdale Community Near You
Find a Brookdale Community Near You

Let us help find the right community for you!

Complete the form and a Senior Living Advisor will be in touch!
or continue browsing

We value your privacy. By clicking, you agree to the terms and conditions of our privacy policy and agree to be called, in response to your inquiry, by a Senior Living Advisor using our automatic telephone dialing system.

Speak with a Senior Living Advisor now