How do your heart and body adapt in heart failure?

When you have heart failure, your body will adapt to try to keep up with the amount of blood your body needs. This is known as compensation.

Your heart will:

  • increase the number of times it beats (tachycardia) – to pump more blood around your body
  • expand its size (dilatation) – by stretching to increase the amount of blood it can hold and pump out as well as developing stronger, thicker heart muscle (hypertrophy) – to help it pump harder.

Your body will also try to increase the amount of circulating blood and re-direct blood flow away from your muscles to your brain and other vital organs. While your body can compensate for a long time, its efforts are actually doing more harm than good.

Since your heart is already weak, these changes make your heart work even harder and end up weakening it even more.

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ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

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