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About Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart is weak and not able to work as well as it should.  When you have heart failure, your heart is unable to fill with enough blood or push the blood through the rest of your body.

People with heart failure may feel tired and notice swelling in their arms, legs, ankles, and veins. They may have trouble sleeping or breathing and have frequent urination. They can have a cough, particularly at night when they rest on their backs.

Heart failure cannot be cured, but medication and healthy habits such as eating well, exercising, and not drinking alcohol can help prevent problems.

Who is at risk for heart failure?

Risk factors for heart failure include:

Age 65 or older
Heart disease, also called coronary artery disease
High blood pressure
Being overweight or obese

More men than women have heart failure. African Americans are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to have heart failure and may develop symptoms earlier than age 65. Check out our self-care checklist  and heart failure resources for steps you can take to decrease your risk of heart failure.

How does heart failure affect our community?

About 2% of adults in Maine have heart failure, and most of them are over the age of 60.  Despite seeming like a small segment of the population, that 2% represented more than 11,000 overnight hospital stays in 2005 that could have been prevented if the doctors and patients had followed clinical guidelines for the best care.

Why do you need to know about heart failure?

Heart failure is a serious condition, so if you or a loved one are diagnosed, receiving high quality medical care is a must. High quality heart failure care starts with having a doctor who respects you, communicates clearly, and involves you in decisions about your care. Quality care is care that has been proven to work.  Your doctor should always evaluate you to see if you should get the care experts recommend and when.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2010) How to describe the health and community context for comparative performance reports: sample language for five health topics. Princeton, NJ.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010).  Heart Failure. Retrieved from

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