What is heart failure?
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the body’s needs. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart. Heart failure does not mean the heart stops. Rather, it means the heart fails to pump as well as it should. Heart failure generally results from some other underlying condition.
What You Need to Know About Heart Failure
Cardiomyopathy, a name for any disease of the heart muscle, is one condition that often leads to heart failure.
Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, swelling in the legs and feet, and abdominal pain or nausea.
Diagnosis includes tests for the existence of heart failure, followed by tests to evaluate the cause of the heart failure.
Treatment for heart failure begins with lifestyle changes and medications. In more advanced cases, surgery may be needed.
People can and do live with heart failure. Close self-monitoring and sticking to the doctor’s recommended diet, medication and exercise plans are essential to improving quality of life.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure may result from any or all of the following:
A number of medications and supplements may worsen heart failure or interfere with heart failure medicines. Be sure to tell your physician about all medications and supplements you are taking, including over-the-counter remedies.
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
The following are the most common symptoms of heart failure. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
shortness of breath during rest or exercise, or while lying flat
visible swelling of the legs, ankles and sometimes the abdomen, due to a buildup of fluid
fatigue and weakness
nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite
persistent cough that can cause blood-tinged sputum
Broadly speaking, some people will develop symptoms because they can’t get blood to the body (fatigue and weakness, shortness of breath with activity), and some will develop symptoms because blood and fluid become congested prior to reaching the heart (shortness of breath lying down, weight gain, persistent cough, abdominal congestion, nausea, abdominal pain, poor appetite, leg swelling). Some may have symptoms from both groups. And yet some may not have any symptoms at all.
The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of the heart’s pumping capacity has been affected.
Symptoms of heart failure may resemble those of other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
How is heart failure diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for heart failure may include some combination of the following:
: a process that produces pictures of internal tissues, bones and organs
(also called echo): an ultrasound of the heart
(ECG or EKG): wires taped to various parts of your body to create a graph of your heart’s electrical rhythm
BNP testing: B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a hormone released from the ventricles in response to increased wall tension (stress) that occurs with heart failure. BNP levels rise as wall stress increases. BNP levels are useful in the rapid evaluation of heart failure. In general, the higher the BNP levels, the worse the heart failure.
How is heart failure treated?
The goal of heart failure treatment is to improve quality of life by addressing the underlying causes, reducing symptoms and managing overall health. Education plays a crucial role. Patients and their families who learn to recognize and respond to small changes, such as swelling or weight gain, can help slow the progression of heart failure.