A healthy heart is like a finely tuned pump that pushes blood around your body with ease. When diseases or damage affect the heart’s pumping ability, this is known as heart failure. Around 110,000 Australians live with heart failure, including almost twice as many men than women.

Our cardiologists are experts at managing heart failure. We offer world-class care, with leading facilities to provide personalised diagnosis and treatment.

Find a cardiologist

If you are experiencing any cardiac symptoms: chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath. dizziness or fainting or signs of heart failure (swollen ankles, unable to lie flat or waking short of breath) you should contact your GP or present to an emergency department for assessment.

If you require urgent attention dial 000 (Triple Zero) and ask for an Ambulance.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) happens when your heart muscle is no longer able to pump and relax the way it should. The resulting drop in blood flow means your organs and tissues get less oxygen and nutrients, and fluid can build up in your body.

Types of heart failure

Your heart has four pumping chambers – two each on the right and left. Heart failure can affect the right or left sides of the heart or both. Heart failure is sometimes described by the different ways it can affect a measure of your heart’s pumping capacity (known as the ‘ejection fraction’).

  1. Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (systolic heart failure) –  the heart muscle is weakened to the point where it cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
  2. Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (diastolic heart failure) – your heart can still pump blood around your body, but the heart muscle is less flexible. This can lead to pressure build up within the heart.

Heart failure is usually a lifelong condition, but the right treatment can help you manage the symptoms, feel better, and keep doing things you enjoy.

Heart failure symptoms

Symptoms of heart failure include:

●  shortness of breath or breathing difficulties (especially when you’re active or lying down flat)
●  wheezing and coughing
●  dizziness or fainting
●  chest or upper body pain or discomfort 
●  tiredness, fatigue or weakness
●  heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing, pounding or fluttering)
●  leg or ankle swelling
●  stomach swelling or bloating
●  poor appetite or nausea.

Causes of heart failure

Anything that damages the heart can cause heart failure. Heart attacks and coronary heart disease – which can lead to heart muscle stiffness or weakness – are the most common causes.

Other things that can cause heart failure include:

●   heart valve disease – which can limit blood flow and put strain on the heart
●   congenital heart problems – some people are born with irregularities that affect blood flow through the heart
●   cardiomyopathy – this disease can affect the heart muscle’s pumping ability
●   myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) – infections like viruses can affect the heart muscle
●   heart rhythm problems – if the heart’s electrical system isn’t working as it should, this may lead to heart failure
●   chronic health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, HIV and thyroid conditions
●   other rare conditions – such as amyloidosis, sarcoidosis, and some nutrient deficiencies
●   toxins, including alcohol and illicit drugs
●   Pregnancy - hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to heart failure.
●   Intense emotion or stress can lead to heart muscle stunning and heart failure.

Heart failure prevention

Some causes of heart failure (such as a congenital problem) cannot be prevented. However, healthy habits can lower your risk of heart attack or coronary heart disease. To help keep your heart healthy, you can:

●   manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
●   get treatment for diabetes or other health conditions
●   achieve and maintain a healthy weight
●   get support to quit smoking
●   eat healthily and drink less alcohol
●   be physically active
●   stay socially connected
●   do things to support your mental wellbeing.

Referral for heart failure management

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of heart failure, your GP may refer you to a cardiologist (heart specialist) for further investigations and treatment.

To start your heart failure treatment with us, ask your GP for a referral to one of our experienced cardiologists.

Your doctor can address the referral to a specific cardiologist, or simply to ‘Dear Doctor’.

Find a cardiologist near you. 

Search a specialist

Heart failure testing and diagnosis

Cardiologists use a range of tests to diagnose heart failure.

Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)

This test uses sound waves to get a picture of your heart. It allows doctors to see the heart’s valves and chambers and look at how well your heart is pumping.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

This test measures the heart’s electrical activity. Your doctor might use an ECG to check for altered heart rhythms (called 'arrhythmias') or signs of a heart attack.

Exercise tests

Also known as a ‘stress test’, an exercise test checks how your heart reacts to physical activity. It involves monitoring your heart while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike.

Chest x-ray

X-ray pictures of the heart, lungs and blood vessels can detect signs of heart failure.

Blood tests

Blood tests can show signs of a heart attack and measure the levels of substances that can affect your heart function (such as blood sugar and fats).

Coronary angiogram

This involves taking images of the heart arteries by passing a thin tube (called a catheter) through an arm or leg artery to the heart. A small amount of contrast dye is injected and an x-ray camera outside the body takes the images.

Right heart catheterization

This procedure involves passing a catheter into a vein in your groin or neck to measure the pressure in your heart and lungs. This gives doctors an indication of how well your heart is pumping.

Heart failure treatment

As a chronic condition, heart failure cannot be cured. However, treatment can help you feel better and live a healthier, longer life.

Non-surgical (conservative) treatment for heart failure

Heart failure can often be managed without the need for surgery. Conservative treatments for heart failure include:

Heart failure management programs – in these specialised programs run by healthcare professionals, you’ll learn how to manage your condition, keep your heart healthy, and what to do if symptoms get worse. Participating in one of these programs can lower your risk of complications, reduce your chances of going to hospital, improve your quality of life, and even help you live longer.

Cardiac rehabilitation – these programs involve education and exercise sessions to help you get stronger, fitter and make heart-healthy changes. Led by healthcare professionals, you’ll get advice and exercises tailored to your needs. Cardiac rehabilitation can improve your wellbeing and quality of life and help you stay out of hospital. 

Medications – your doctor might prescribe medicines to improve blood flow and help your heart pump more effectively. Medication can help you feel better, stay out of hospital and live a healthier longer life.

Surgical treatment for heart failure

In some cases of heart failure, treatment might involve a surgical procedure.

Pacemaker – if your heart failure is caused by an altered heart rhythm, your specialist might recommend a pacemaker. These small devices sit under the skin of your chest (or tummy) and produce small electrical impulses that help your heart to pump regularly. 

Implantable defibrillator – these small devices sit just under the skin and monitor your heart. If they detect a dangerous rhythm, they can deliver a controlled electric shock to help restore a normal rhythm.

Ablation – this procedure is used to treat heart rhythm problems. It involves using heat energy to create tiny scars on areas of the heart where abnormal electrical signals are coming from.

Heart valve surgery – if heart failure is caused by a heart valve problem, you may be advised to have an operation to repair or replace damaged valves. This may be performed as a minimally-invasive procedure using a catheter, through keyhole surgery, or as a traditional open surgery.

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) – in this procedure, another artery or vein is used to ‘bypass’ a blocked one and restore blood flow to your heart muscle.


Recovery time can vary significantly depending on which procedure you have, as well as factors like your age, general health, and lifestyle. For example, you might need to stay in hospital a day or two after having a pacemaker put in and avoid strenuous activities for four to six weeks. Open heart surgery could require a week or so in hospital and several months of recovery.

You might need to have rehabilitation afterwards to help you get stronger and return to your usual activities. Various health professionals, such as physiotherapists, dietitians and exercise physiologists, might work with you to create habits that promote heart health.

Your heart specialist can give you personalised advice about how long it could take you to recover from surgery for heart failure.








Reviewed by Dr. Sameer Tatavarty, Cardiologist at Gold Coast Private Hospital. 


Find a specialist or doctor

Use our online directory

Find a specialist


Our hospitals

Find out more about the cardiology services at our hospitals.

Contact us for more info

Our Assistance

... ... ... ...