Heart failure (sometimes known as congestive heart failure) occurs when the heart muscle is weakened or damaged and can’t effectively pump blood to the rest of the body.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure is a chronic disease that can be caused by many heart conditions. It may affect only one side of the heart or both sides. When heart failure affects the left side (left-sided heart failure), the heart muscle cannot pump blood out of the heart well, also, it can be caused by a stiff heart muscle which prevents it from filling up with blood properly in between each contraction of the heartbeat. You may notice some shortness of breath if the fluid backs up into your lungs. When it affects the right side (Right-sided heart failure)—often as a result of failure on the left side—it can cause blood to back up in the body’s veins (fluid may back up into your abdomen, legs and feet, causing swelling) instead of moving into the heart to pick up oxygen.
Conditions that can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Valvular heart diseases
- Excess alcohol use
- Overactive or underactive thyroid
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
Symptoms of heart failure include:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Cough or sudden onset severe shortness of breath or wheezing (with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm)
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath, even while sleeping
- Sudden weight gain
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Increased need to urinate at night
- Chest pain
How is heart failure diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose heart failure using a physical exam and the results of several tests, including:
- A chest X-ray
- Electrocardiography (EKG)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear stress test
- Blood tests (including N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide or BNP)
How is heart failure treated?
Treatments to manage heart failure include lifestyle changes, medications, medical procedures and surgery.
Your doctor may recommend the following lifestyle changes:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Limiting alcohol
- Increasing physical activity
Medications may improve your heart function and make it easier for you to get physical activity. You may be prescribed:
- Diuretics – to help your body get rid of extra fluid
- Inotropes – to strengthen your heart’s ability to pump
- Vasodilators – to open up narrowed blood vessels
- Beta-blockers – to prevent deleterious effect of adrenalin
- ACE inhibitors – to keep blood vessels open and reduce blood pressure
- Angiotension II receptor blockers – many of the same benefits as ACE inhibitors, may be an alternative for people who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors
If lifestyle changes and medication is not enough, you may need a medical procedure or surgery to restore heart function. Surgical options include:
- Percutaneous coronary intervention
- Heart valve repair or replacement surgery
- Biventricular pacing or cardiac resynchronization therapy(CRT)
- ICD implantation
- Coronary artery bypass surgery
- Mechanical assistance devices
- Heart transplantation