Sudden flare-up of heart failure

Sudden (acute) heart failure happens when your heart isn't working as well as it had been. You may become much more short of breath and have much more fluid buildup than usual. You may not be able to do your daily activities.

If your flare-up is very bad, you also may feel lightheaded or very tired, or you may make a lot less urine.

A flare-up is different than heart failure that gets worse slowly. With a flare-up, your symptoms change much more quickly. It may happen if you have a high-salt meal, forget your medicines, get an irregular heartbeat, or have a problem like anemia, an infection, or a fever.

You may have to stay in the hospital to fix the problem. Some flare-ups may take several days to control.

After treatment, your symptoms will probably go back to the way they were before the flare-up.

Treatment for a flare-up

When you arrive at the hospital or emergency room, the doctor will prescribe medicines such as diuretics, nitrates, and/or morphine. These will help you breathe more easily and control your pain or anxiety. You also may get oxygen.

Your doctor may order exams, such as a stress test, EKG/ECG, or echocardiogram. These tests will let the doctor know how well your heart is working.

Your doctor will try to find the cause of your flare-up and treat it. For example, you may have eaten a salty meal the night before that caused your body to hold onto extra water and make your symptoms worse. Or the cause may be harder to find.

After the flare-up is controlled, your doctor may change the doses or types of medicine you take.

In some cases, you may go from the hospital to a rehabilitation (or rehab) center. The staff members are specially trained to support people with heart failure. They can help you with diet and lifestyle changes.

Last Updated: August 25, 2008

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