| Tue, Feb 06, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

Living with Chronic Heart Failure

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

Retired women practicing yoga in grassy fieldHearing a doctor say “you have heart failure” can be frightening. The words sound so final. But heart failure doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped working.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a chronic condition that many people live with and manage. It’s sometimes called congestive heart failure, or CHF.

Heart failure is caused by other diseases that damage the heart muscle. Diseases and conditions that may cause heart failure include heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Heart failure symptoms include shortness of breath and feeling tired after normal activities like climbing the stairs. Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or stomach may also occur.

Heart failure treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms, treating the underlying cause and preventing further heart damage. It usually includes lifestyle changes and medications. Exact treatments vary and depend on the degree of heart failure.

What Does It Mean to Have Heart Failure?

The heart is like the center of a figure 8. It receives oxygen-filled blood from the lungs and sends it out to the body. Blood loops back to the heart from the body and is sent back to the lungs for more oxygen. Oxygen-filled blood loops back to the heart, and the cycle continues.

Heart failure means that the heart can’t pump enough blood. In some cases the heart muscle is too weak to push enough oxygen-filled blood out to the body. Other times the heart muscle is too stiff to fill with enough blood to send back to the lungs.

Imagine blood coming from the lungs or coming back from the body and slowing down or getting “backed up” at the center of the figure 8. That puts strain on the heart and lungs. It also prevents the body from getting enough oxygen and nutrients. That’s when heart failure symptoms may show up or get worse.

Heart failure symptoms may come and go. It’s important to pay attention to them. Hospitalization may be needed when heart failure symptoms become unmanageable.

Cardiac Rehabilitation May Help Heart Failure Patients

Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a medically supervised program for people with heart conditions. The purpose is to help improve health and well-being and to help the individual live an active life.2, 3 

Cardiac rehab programs focus on teaching heart-healthy behaviors such as:

  • Eating a low-fat, low-salt diet
  • Including regular, safe physical activity
  • Reducing stress

Medicare Covers Cardiac Rehab for Heart Failure

Medicare Part B covers cardiac rehab for people with stable heart failure who meet certain standards and are referred by a doctor. The individual pays 20% of the Medicare-approved amount when the service is through a doctor’s office or the hospital co-payment when it’s in a hospital outpatient setting. The Part B deductible applies.

People with heart failure who don’t qualify for cardiac rehab may still get help. Lifestyle recommendations are usually part of the treatment plan. This may include a process of steadily increasing physical activity to help keep heart failure from worsening.

Many Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans offer gym memberships that could help support a heart-healthy lifestyle. People with heart failure may also want to look into a Special Needs Plan. These plans are designed specifically for those with chronic health conditions.


There is no cure for heart failure, but it’s possible to treat it and live a normal, active life. A cardiac rehab program may help.

Related Content

Are You Heart Healthy?

3 Health Problems that Stress May Worsen

What are Medicare Special Needs Plans?

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


1What is Heart Failure? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; accessed February 2, 2016

2What is Cardiac Rehab?  National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; accessed February 2, 2016

3Study Shows Heart Failure Patients Benefit from Cardiac Rehab Interview, MD magazine; accessed February 2, 2016



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